Why do we say "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"?

Well-Known Expressions

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Meaning:

This expression is usually used ironically to comment on somebody who is copying another person with the intention of gaining attention for themselves.

Background:

The earliest known use of this exact expression is in Charles Caleb Colton's 1820 Lacon: or Many Things in Few Words, addressed to those who think. But there are earlier variations such as a 1714 issue of The Spectator magazine which included the phrase: Imitation is a kind of artless flattery.

Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832) was an English clergyman and something of an eccentric. Educated at Eton, followed by King's College, where he got both a B.A. and an M.A., he was presented by the college with the perpetual curacy of Tiverton's Prior's Quarter in the county of Devon. According to Wikipedia, "unlike ancient rectories and vicarages, perpetual curacies were supported by a cash stipend, usually maintained by an endowment fund, and had no ancient right to income from tithe or glebe...compared to rectors and vicars of ancient parishes, perpetual curates tended to be of uncertain social standing; and also be much less likely to be adequately paid."

A decade or so later, he was appointed vicar of Kew and Petersham (in the south of modern-day Greater London). Apparently his style was somewhat erratic and he left church service, and England, in 1828--some say fleeing his creditors. After a couple of years in the U.S. he moved to Paris where he invested in paintings and frequented the gaming salons. Apparently he did rather well for himself--until he lost it all. At the time of his self-inflicted death, he was living on family funds.

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