History Repeats Itself; Experts Discover Passages with a Familiar Ring in New Book on Queen of Scots

Daily Mail (London), February 24, 1999 | Go to article overview

History Repeats Itself; Experts Discover Passages with a Familiar Ring in New Book on Queen of Scots


Byline: LESLEY ROBERTS

AT THE peak of his career, he was considered one of Scotland's leading historical biographers with a reputation for accuracy and fastidious research.

But last night award-winning author James Mackay was facing a fresh accusation of plagiarism - the third time such a claim has been made against him in four years.

Historians who have examined the eminent writer's forthcoming book on Mary Queen of Scots claim some sections show remarkable similarities to a landmark text on the Scottish monarch published 30 years ago.

Dr Mackay is accused of 'lifting' sections of the book Mary Queen of Scots by Lady Antonia Fraser, altering them a little, then reproducing them in the later stages of his own biography.

His 320-page text, entitled In My Beginning Is My End, will not appear in book stores until next month, but advance copies have already been sent to book reviewers, some of whom detect similarities with Lady Fraser's text.

Last night Dr Mackay, 63, strenuously denied the allegations, insisting that a degree of crossover was inevitable in historical accounts and that he retained the full support of his publishers, Edinburgh-based Mainstream.

But literary experts claim the line of argument the author follows in his book, and some of the phraseology he

uses, are too close to that of the original to have occurred by coincidence. The accusations come a year after 10,000 copies of Dr Mackay's biography on Alexander Graham Bell, Sounds Out Of Silence, were destroyed for breach of copyright.

The author paid [pounds sterling]50,000 of his own cash to have the books pulped in the United States after using letters which had been published already by an American professor, Pulitzer prizewinner Robert Bruce.

Professor Bruce accused Dr Mackay of plagiarising his book on Bell. The Scottish author denied this, but accepted he had infringed copyright.

In 1995, historians claimed Dr Mackay's biography of William Wallace, entitled Brave Heart, drew heavily on a famous text on the Scottish folk hero published nearly 60 years before.

Sir James Fergusson's book on Wallace first appeared in 1938 and became one of the definitive historical accounts, but Dr Mackay was accused of lifting some of the text.

Dr Graeme Morton of Edinburgh University, the academic who first pointed out the similarities in the Wallace case, was asked to examine several sections of Dr Mackay's new book.

Dr Morton, a lecturer i n economic and social history, said: 'The argument he presents follows the the same structure as Antonia Fraser. 'It looks like the words have been moved around but the phrasing is similar. To be fair, the early part of the book is absolutely fine. It is only in the later stages that the problems arise.' Dr Morton admitted that Dr Mackay's most recent text may have been singled out for close analysis because of the previous allegations against him. …

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History Repeats Itself; Experts Discover Passages with a Familiar Ring in New Book on Queen of Scots
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