Skip to main content

Full text of "The Note Books Of Samuel Butler"

The Enfant Terrible of Literature    187

take a great deal of pains to write clearly, tersely and euphe-
mistically : he will write many a sentence three or four
times over—to do much more than this is worse than not re-
writing at all: he will be at great pains to see that he does
not repeat himself, to arrange his matter in the way that
shall best enable the reader to master it, to cut out super-
fluous words and, even more, to eschew irrelevant matter:
but in each case he will be thinking not of his own style but
of his reader's convenience.

Men like Newman and R. L. Stevenson seem to have taken
pains to acquire what they called a style as a preliminary
measure—as something that they had to form before their
writings could be of any value. I should like to put it on
record that I never took the smallest pains with my style,
have never thought about it, and do not know or want to
know whether it is a style at all or whether it is not, as I
believe and hope, just common, simple straightforwardness.
I cannot conceive how any man can take thought for his
style without loss to himself and his readers.

I have, however, taken all the pains that I had patience
to endure in the improvement of my handwriting (which,
by the way, has a constant tendency to resume feral character-
istics) and also with my MS. generally to keep it clean and
legible. I am having a great tidying just now, in the course
of which the MS. of Erewhon turned up, and I was struck
with the great difference between it and the MS. of The
Authoress of the Odyssey. I have also taken great pains, with
what success I know not, to correct impatience, irritability
and other like faults in my own character—and this not
because I care two straws about my own character, but
because I find the correction of such faults as I have been
able to correct makes life easier and saves me from getting
into scrapes, and attaches nice people to me more readily.
But I suppose this really is attending to style after all. [1897.]

Diderot on Criticism

" II est si difficile de produire une chose meme mediocre;
il est si facile de sentir la mediocrite."

I have lately seen this quoted as having been said by Diderot.
It is easy to say we feel the mediocrity when we have heard