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Kipling joins Shakespeare, MLK, other 'plagiarists'

The Rudyard Kipling letter where he claimed it was "extremely possible" he used someone else's work in the classic "The Jungle Book." (Source: Andrusier Autographs) The Rudyard Kipling letter where he claimed it was "extremely possible" he used someone else's work in the classic "The Jungle Book." (Source: Andrusier Autographs)
Rudyard Kipling (Source: Wikimedia Commons) Rudyard Kipling (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

(RNN) – The writer of The Jungle Book has joined a long and distinguished list of great writers suspected of ripping someone off.

In a circa-1895 letter addressed to an unknown woman, Rudyard Kipling responded to a question on his Law of the Jungle, first mentioned in the story Mowgli's Brothers. He explained it was "manufactured to meet ‘the necessities of the case,'" although some was borrowed from Eskimo rules on the division of spoils.

"In fact, it is extremely possible that I have helped myself promiscuously but at present cannot remember from whose stories I have stolen," Kipling continued.

The letter began receiving attention when it was put up for auction by Andrusier Autographs.

"Kipling admits to plagiarism in The Jungle Book!" the listing states.

Despite the seller's assurance, the letter was not absolute proof the author claimed someone else's work as his own. Without knowing the first part of the conversation, or who the conversation is with, the tone of the remarks was unclear.

The part where he "cannot remember" whose work he plagiarized to add to a book published in 1894, about a year before the letter, also left some doubt.

A third possibility was he took an idea or outline he found somewhere else and put his own take on it. This "borrowing" can approach the level of plagiarism, depending on how much was taken, but in small doses has been found in nearly every work – as there are few truly original stories.

William Shakespeare

The Bard might be the most famous of all accused plagiarists. Some even claimed he never wrote a single word of the plays attributed to him, instead serving as a front for another person or persons who could not take public credit.

While most scholars widely disputed that, it has been accepted Shakespeare's work borrowed from different sources – like most other playwrights of his day.

In one of the more blatant examples, Romeo and Juliet took its name (and pretty much everything else) from Arthur Brooke's The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet. However, Shakespeare was credited with taking a forgettable story in Romeus and turning it into Romeo, one of the most beloved tales of all time.

Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1991, The New York Times reported a committee found King had plagiarized parts of a doctoral dissertation at Boston University. Despite there being "no question" he did it, according to the BU panel, they decided not to revoke his doctorate.

The committee said there would be no point in any action, although they recommended a letter stating the findings be placed with the official copy of the dissertation in the university library.

Also, King's I Have a Dream speech in Washington, DC, concluded with nearly the same words as Archibald Carey Jr.'s speech at the 1952 Republican National Convention. However, King and Carey were said to be close friends, so the two more than likely agreed upon the use of the "Let freedom ring" portion in the 1963 address.

T.S. Eliot

In 1913, a poem entitled Waste Land was published. Its author? Madison Cawein.

In 1922, Eliot released what would become one of his best-known works, The Waste Land. In addition to the title, Eliot used many of the same symbols found in Cawein's work, although his was significantly longer and had its own unique style.

Much of The Waste Land also borrowed from other writers, although it was seen as a nod meant to be recognized by the reader. Excerpts from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and Edmund Spenser's Prothalamion were used near-verbatim.

Eliot appeared to live by a quote from his analysis of Philip Massinger:

"Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different," he wrote.

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