A few years ago the poet and critic Tom Paulin, reviewing a biography of Kipling in the Times Literary Supplement, surmised that Kipling was borrowing from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when he used the phrase “dark places of the earth.” In fact, as a letter pointed out in the following issue, the phrase comes from Psalm 74:20—“Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.” Both Conrad and Kipling, of course, were borrowing from the same biblical source.

Most of our critics and scholars have hardly any idea what’s actually in the Bible.

By itself, this little mistake wouldn’t amount to much. But it happens all the time. I have seen Samuel Johnson credited with the words “The night cometh when no man can work,” the phrase “hand...


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