Skip to main content

Full text of "The craftsmanship of writing"

See other formats

$B IfiM M7T 


Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2007 with funding from 

IVIicrosoft Corporation 










^f^^ 77 

Copyright, 1910, igii 
By DODD, mead & COMPANY 




in recognition of long-standing and loyal friend 

ship as well as of his special kindliness 

towards this particular volume, 

it is herewith cordially 



The present volume is the outgrowth of 
a course in essay writing, offered two years 
ago in connection with the University Ex- 
tension work of Columbia University. It 
embodies in part what the author then un- 
dertook to teach his students, supplemented 
by what the students quite unconsciously 
taught the author. There was a class which, 
taken collectively, offered much diversity of 
scholarship, a wide range of preparation 
for writing. Yet one and all of them pre- 
sented practically the same sort of problem; 
one and all said in effect : "I have had such 
and such training ; I have worked hard and 
willingly; yet my manuscripts do not sell. 
What is the matter with my preparation? 
What books should I read? What course 
should I take?" And in a wider way, these 
are the questions that are to-day being asked 
throughout the length and breadth of this 
continent. Now the purpose of this vol- 
ume is to answer these questions, by point- 
ing out that the fault is primarily with the 


would-be authors themselves, and not with 
their preparation. The best teaching they 
can anywhere receive is at most a make- 
shift, a mere starting point ; they must learn 
to rely upon themselves, and the earlier the 
better. The most that this book or any 
other can do is to guide them away from 
certain wrong paths and toward certain 
right ones ; they must cultivate self-criticism, 
industry, the art of taking infinite pains, the 
habit of looking upon to-day's failures as 
the stepping stones toward to-morrow's 
success. The laurels of authorship are 
worth the winning largely because there is 
no primrose path leading to them. 
New York: April 13, 191 1. 



I The Inborn Talent ... 3 

II The Power of Self-Criticism 47 

III The Author*s Purpose . . 79 

IV The Technique of Form . . 115 
V The Gospel of Infinite Pains 153 

VI The Question of Clearness . 179 

VII The Question of Style . . 209 

VIII The Technique of Translat- 
ing . ....... 243 





It is always helpful, in writings possessing 
even the mildest of text-book flavour, for 
author and reader to start with a clear 
mutual understanding of scope and pur- 
pose. The best way in which to forestall 
that aggrieved sense which a student often 
feels of having derived no profit from a 
certain book or article or lecture course, is 
to say frankly, at the outset: ** Here, in 
brief, is what we intend to do. If your 
individual case falls outside these limits, 
you will waste your time, since it belongs 
upon the list of what we have no intention 
of doing." 

In the present volume of papers on The 
Craftsmanship of Writing, the best and 

C 3 ] 

• • • • * 

. : : ;; :'\ ;T^E INJBpRK TALENT 

quickest way to reach this helpful under- 
standing is to explain what first suggested 
them, and what results it is hoped that they 
will achieve. There has probably never 
been a time when so large a number of men 
and women, of all sorts and conditions, 
have yielded to the lure of authorship — 
and the elemental, naive and random ques- 
tions that they often ask shows that there 
has never been a time when so many were 
in need of a word of friendly guidance. 
And this is precisely what the present vol- 
ume claims to give. It does not pretend to 
point a royal road to literature — to fur- 
nish a new philosopher's stone for trans- 
muting ordinary citizens into famous poets 
and novelists. It has no ambition to 
create new authors — since authors worthy 
of the name are born, not made — nor to 
compete with the efforts of our college Eng- 
lish Departments, our summer lecture 
courses, our correspondence schools and 

[ 4] 


literary agencies — for we have a surfeit 
of these already. The aim of The Crafts- 
manship of Writing is nothing more pre- 
tentious than to help would-be writers to 
reach a somewhat saner, more logical un- 
derstanding of the real nature of the pro- 
fession they are entering upon, both on its 
technical and its artistic side; to discount 
its delays and disappointments; and above 
all, to learn to help themselves by intelli- 
gent self-criticism. For it is a somewhat 
curious fact that there is no other line of 
intellectual work in which a man or a 
woman may remain, through months and 
years, so fundamentally ignorant of his or 
her real worth. 

Now the reason why a struggling au- 
thor may waste years of misdirected ef- 
fort, without knowing just how good or 
bad his productions really are, is not dif- 
ficult to explain. The sources of any 
workman's knowledge of his worth are 

[5 ] 


practically only three in number : the mar- 
ket value of his ware; his own self-criti- 
cism, and the opinions of others. Now 
it is a common experience among young 
authors to find through weary months that 
their wares apparently have no market 
value at all — this does away with the 
first source of knowledge. Secondly, the 
ability to criticise one's self in a detached, 
impartial way is one of the rarest of hu- 
man faculties — and not a bit less rare in 
authors than in other people. Yet, un- 
fortunately, it is upon his own judgment 
that every young writer must very largely 
depend. For there is probably no other 
craft or employment in which it is so dif- 
ficult to obtain a really authoritative opin- 
ion ^ — for the excellent reason that in no 
other craft or employment is there such 
a lack of any general requirement, any 
standard of apprenticeship. Indeed, It Is 
often as hard to guess the potential powers 
C 6] 


of a beginner in letters as to predict how a 
raw recruit is likely to conduct himself 
under fire. Let us, therefore, take up 
separately these two questions: First, the 
various kinds of critical opinion a young 
author is able to obtain upon his writings ; 
secondly, the nature and degree of system- 
atic training it is possible for him to ac- 

But first let us ask one more prelimi- 
nary detail: where does the raw recruit 
In the army of authorship mainly come 
from? In other trades and professions 
there is some sort of selective barrier: a 
college degree, a regent's certificate, a 
Civil Service examination, a Union Mem- 
bership, some sort of initial guarantee of 
fitness. Then, too, in many cases, there 
is the prohibitive question of expense. It 
costs both time and money to become a 
lawyer or physician — even to go upon 
the stage means nowadays a year or two 
[ 7 ] 


in a dramatic school, if one does not want 
to start with a handicap. In contrast 
writing seems so simple; pen and ink, a 
pad of paper, a table in a quiet corner — 
these to the uninitiated seem to be the net 
amount of required capital. Frank Nor- 
ris, in a burst of rather curious optimism, 
once wrote, " The would-be novel writer 
may determine between breakfast and 
dinner to essay the plunge, buy ( for a few 
cents) ink and paper between dinner and 
supper, and have the novel under way 
before bedtime. How much of an outlay 
does his first marketable novel represent? 
Practically nothing.'* Mr. Norris seems 
for the moment to have forgotten that his 
own first " marketable novel," McTeague 
(although published subsequently to Mo- 
ran of the Lady Letty) ^ represented care- 
ful labour scattered over a period of four 
years, and that a portion of it at least ne- 
cessitated quite literally a further delay 
[ 8 ] 


than that of ink and paper, being submitted 
in part fulfillment of the requirements of 
a course at Harvard University. La 
Bruyere came considerably nearer the 
truth when he cynically wrote, from a dif- 
ferent angle: 

A man starts upon a sudden, takes Pen, Ink 
and Paper, and without ever having had a 
thought of it before, resolves within himself to 
write a Book; he has no Talent at writing, but 
he wants fifty Guineas. 

Now, as In every other attempt to ob- 
tain a high rate of interest upon a small 
investment, the results are extremely 
precarious. The difference in this par- 
ticular case of the beginner in literature 
is that the fault lies less with the invest- 
ment than with the Investor. Out of a 
hundred beginners, taken at random, no 
two have had the same sort or degree of 
training, the same advantages of worldly 
[ 9 ] 


knowledge, the same allotment of that 
special fitness which It Is convenient to 
speak of as the Inborn Talent. And It 
would be most extraordinary If all of 
them, or any considerable portion of 
them should have. The field is open to 
all comers, without prejudice of colour, 
sex or age. And so we find competing 
side by side, the university man, with 
half a dozen letters after his name; the 
young woman from some Western farm, 
who thinks herself a second Mrs. Brown- 
ing; the underpaid teacher, the starveling 
minister, the physician with a dwindling 
practice, who seek to eke out a meagre 
income with an occasional magazine ar- 
ticle; the society woman and the man of 
leisure whose whim it is to see them- 
selves in print; the suffragette, the sweet 
girl graduate, the whole motley host 
that, rightly or wrongly, believe them- 
selves to have the Inborn Talent. Now, 



if these new writers seek advice — and 
sooner or later they practically all of them 
do — from whom can they seek it? 
What avenues are open to them? 

Some writers, of course, are more for- 
tunately placed than others, in this re- 
spect; but in practice it will be found that 
the usual sources of criticism, whether fa- 
vourable or hostile, narrow down to four: 
I. The biassed opinions of interested 
friends; II. The bought opinions of pro- 
fessional advisers; III. The rejections or 
acceptances of editors,, either with or with- 
out comment; IV. The published criti- 
cisms in the review departments of news- 
papers and magazines. Now, as already 
said, there is a certain degree of luck in all 
four of these sources of criticism. Thus, 
to take them up in order, the opinions of 
the first class may not always be biassed. 
A young author may have the good luck 
to number among his friends or relatives 



one or more authors of big accomplish- 
ment and fine discernment who may 
serve the place of literary godfather, and 
who in rare and wonderful Instances, such 
as that of Flaubert and Maupassant, ac- 
tuallse that Ideal form of apprenticeship 
which all the arts enjoy save only that of 
letters. Again, it sometimes happens 
that a beginner Is fortunate enough to 
choose for his adviser a professional 
reader whose horizon happens to be wider 
than that of the mere market value of lit- 
erary ware, and whose suggestions stimu- 
late the growth of his mentality as well 
as of his bank account. And then again, 
there are editors, who, in spite of the bur- 
den they carry, are not always too busy 
to send, with a rejected manuscript, a line 
or two of welcome advice to a young au- 
thor whom they see to be stumbling need- 
lessly — or a few words of equally valued 
praise to the be^nner whose first work 



shows, through all its crudeness, the un- 
mistakable gleam of the Inborn Talent. 
And as to the fourth class, that of the pro- 
fessional critic, there are a good many 
successful authors who freely admit the 
debt they owe to him for many a frank 
word of praise or censure in earlier years. 
Indeed, this last source of outside help 
ought to be the most disinterested and the 
most useful of them all. That it is not, 
is due to two simple and rather obvious 
facts: first, that it cannot possibly reach 
the novice in letters until he begins to get 
his writings into print; secondly, that the 
rank and file of reviewers think it their 
duty to speak to the readers of books 
rather than to the writers of them — to 
tell the general public why they ought to 
like or dislike a certain volume, instead of 
telling the author in what particulars his 
work was good and in what others it might 
have been better. 



" I believe," says Sir Walter Besant, in 
his Autobiography, " that one can count 
on ten fingers the few critics whose judg- 
ments are lessons of instruction to writ- 
ers as well as readers/' 

It is this dearth of real enlightenment 
that makes so many first attempts — 
whether poetry or prose, essays, stories 
or special articles — sheer guess-work, 
groplngs in the dark. Hundreds of first 
manuscripts, and second and third manu- 
scripts, too, are written with tremulous 
hopes and fears, absurdly overvalued one 
moment and blackly despaired of the next. 
They start out on their travels, meekly sub- 
mitted " at your usual rates," and soon 
come homing back, with only the empty 
civility of a printed slip to save them from 
the waste-paper basket. That is a fair 
statement of the average beginner's expe- 
rience, is it not? And it is looked upon as 
quite in the natural course of things, a 



special application of the economic law of 
supply and demand. It places the young 
author in the same category with every 
other class of workman who goes around 
peddling the produce of his handiwork. 
And if that produce does not happen to 
be wanted, there is no logical reason why 
anyone should be required to buy it, 
whether it be a sonnet or a sugared waffle. 
In an essay entitled, V Argent dans la 
Litterature, Zola writes, with customary 
bluntness: "The State owes nothing to 
young writers; the mere fact of having 
written a few pages does not entitle them 
to pose as martyrs, because no one will 
print their work. A shoemaker who has 
made his first pair of shoes does not 
force the government to sell them for him. 
It is the workman's place to dispose of his 
work to the public. And if he can't do it, 
if he is a nobody, he remains unknown 
through his own fault, and quite justly so." 



Now it does no good to argue that there 
is something radically wrong about the 
present system. It is quite sufficient if we 
frankly recognise that literature occupies 
an anomalous position, and to seek for the 
reason. The great advantage that the arts 
and professions enjoy in theory over trade 
and business is that they aim to produce 
objects of such beauty or service of such 
importance that the ordinary laws of mar- 
ket value do not apply to them. Aside 
from literature, there is no profession, ex- 
cepting the closely allied one of the maga- 
zine illustrator, which is subjected to a like 
degree of precarious uncertainty. Archi- 
tects, it is true, do occasionally enter plans 
in a competition for some big public build- 
ing — but this is an exception to the cus- 
tom of their craft, a gamble which they 
enter into voluntarily, fully prepared to be 
cheerful losers. Young artists may re- 
peatedly have their pictures refused admis- 


sion to the annual Salons ; but at least they 
have the comfort of knowing that there was 
just one ground for such refusals, namely, 
that the pictures were not sufficiently 
good art. A doctor has some trouble 
in getting his first case, a lawyer in getting 
his first brief; but when oncie they have se- 
cured respectively a client and a patient, 
they count upon being regularly employed; 
it is inconceivable that they should be dis- 
missed with a printed notice that their 
dismissal " does not imply a criticism of 
their intrinsic merits." Even your corner 
grocer, if you leave him without specified 
reason and go to a competitor halfway 
down the block, considers it a criticism, 
and one that he has a right to resent. 

As already implied, there is a very simple 
reason why the man of letters stands in a 
class apart. The artist and sculptor, the 
lawyer and doctor, even the grocer and the 
plumber, have all in their several ways 



served a long and relatively costly appren- 
ticeship. They have, to put It colloqui- 
ally, learned their job before they have 
been allowed to practise for themselves. 
Whether they will become distinguished In 
their several callings or even demonstrate 
an average skill remains to be proved. 
But they start with a certain guaranteed 
fund of foundation knowledge, a certain 
preliminary craftsmanship. It Is conceiv- 
able, of course, that a medical student 
might in his first year, successfully treat 
some simple case of croup or whooping- 
cough. But that one achievement would 
not give him sufficient self-assurance to 
hang out his sign, even if the laws of his 
State permitted such recklessness. Yet 
when the merest tyro in writing happens 
by some lucky hit to write a story good 
enough to win acceptance, or even, let us 
say, a story that has somehow won ac- 
ceptance although not good enough, his 


pendulum of self-criticism swings to the 
outmost verge of elation. He refuses 
to entertain the possibility of further re- 
jections. He begins to multiply the num- 
ber of stories he can write a month by the 
number of months In the year, and the 
product again by the number of dollars on 
his first cheque. 

Of course, In a majority of cases, such 
dreams are doomed to the same fate as in 
the fable of the "Pot of Milk" — and 
It is fortunate for the world at large, and 
doubly fortunate for the young author that 
this Is so. The truth is that In literature, 
as in every other art, there Is no such 
thing as a royal road to fame. Just be- 
cause a writer Is free to hang out his 
shingle, so to speak, at the very beginning, 
it does not by any means follow that he is 
permanently exempted from serving an 
apprenticeship. And this fact Is the sole 
excuse for dwelling at length upon so com- 

[ 19 ] 


monplace a grievance as rejected manu- 
scripts. Every young writer knows, of 
course, that he faces repeated rejection; 
but very few recognise that each manu- 
script that comes back is part of their edu- 
cation, a definite amount of the time and 
effort which every apprentice Is expected to 

The present writer well remembers his 
own first attempts to write short stories, 
while still a college undergraduate, and 
his surprise and resentment when one by 
one the magazines failed to appreciate 
them. He grudged the labour spent upon 
them ; he felt, in a vague sort of way, that 
he had been defrauded. College themes, 
curiously enough, rested on a different 
basis. The time spent on them involved 
no Irritation, although they were doomed 
in advance to be still-born. The reason 
for this difference was that the writer 
recognised his college themes as part of 



the cost of preparation, and that he had 
not yet learned that his rejected manu- 
scripts were also part of that same prep- 
aration — and by far the more important 

" The worst of all evils, for a begin- 
ner," says Zola, in the above-mentioned 
essay, "is to arrive and to succeed too 
soon. He ought to know that behind 
every solid reputation there He at least 
twenty years of effort and of labour." 

What each man or woman learns 
from a rejection depends, of course, 
upon the circumstances of the indi- 
vidual case. It may teach nothing more 
than the unwisdom of submitting a certain 
type of story or article to one particular 
magazine; or again, it may bring a salu- 
tary awakening to the fact that what the 
author fondly believed to be a master- 
piece is, after all, a rather tawdry and 
banal performance. But in any case, a 

[ 21 ] 


setback is wholesome discipline if it makes 
a writer ask himself seriously what is the 
matter with his work — for it is better to 
tear up half a dozen good manuscripts 
than to let a single bad one find its way 
into print. " As remediless as bad work 
once put forward," Is a wise little simile 
of Mr. Kipling's — you will find it in 
The Light that Failed^ not far from the 
point at which the two versions of that 
story part company. It must, however, be 
borne in mind that no sort of apprentice- 
ship ever created genius — Its utmost 
value is to develop technical skill. In 
every art there are two indispensable quali- 
ties — an Inborn Talent and a slowly and 
painfully acquired technique — the only 
difference, in the case of literature, bemg 
that the technique must in the main be 
self-taught. The Inborn Talent is, by its 
very definition, a thing unteachable, al- 
though it may be discovered, fostered and 



developed. It can no more be created by 
teachers of rhetoric or grammar than a 
singing-master can create a voice. But the 
would-be singer has this big advantage 
over the would-be writer, in that he can 
easily find a teacher of authority who will 
tell him in the course of a single interview 
frankly and conclusively whether his case 
is hopeless or not — while the young au- 
thor has no chance of getting such an opin- 
ion, and if he had would probably refuse 
to credit it. 

The result is that most new writers are 
left to learn their value, slowly and pain- 
fully, in the unsparing school of experience. 
And the nature of the lesson is best grasped 
by applying it to the analogous art of 
painting. Suppose the young artist left 
quite to himself, thrown wholly on his own 
judgment, regarding subject and composi- 
tion, colour, light and shade. He paints 
and paints, picture after picture, with only 



his instinct to tell him whether they are 
good or bad — and every now and then 
someone having authority comes along and 
blots them out with turpentine or a palette 
knife, and with no word of explanation. 
The young artist tries again, and still 
again — and if he has the Inborn Talent, 
it is conceivable that he may grow slowly 
through his own efforts, helped only by 
this purely destructive criticism, until he 
achieves real greatness. As a matter of 
fact, this is not the road over which the 
great painters have travelled, but it is the 
road by which the masters of literature 
have attained their goal. 

Now let us suppose, for the sake of 
argument, that a young writer is in no 
haste to see himself In print, that he would 
be glad to have some sort of systematic in- 
struction through a period of years, anal- 
ogous to that of the other arts and crafts : 
what possible avenues are open to him? 



The Inborn Talent, of course, cannot be 
taught; but the technique of good writing 
not only can be taught, but ought to be. 
Yet at present, and I say this advisedly, 
we have not a single well equipped school 
of instruction in technique — nothing 
which even pretends to do for writing 
what the conservatories do for vocal and 
instrumental music, and schools like the 
Beaux Arts for painting and architecture. 
The odd thing is that people have fallen 
into the habit of thinking that we do pos- 
sess such opportunities for Instruction. 
Our schools and colleges and universities 
are paying more attention than ever to 
rhetoric and theme writing. Children 
daily puzzle their parents with intricacies 
of sentence diagrams and strange nomen- 
clature of grammar undreamed of In an 
earlier generation. And yet the average 
city editor will tell you that the young col- 
lege graduate has almost as much to un- 



learn as to learn before he becomes a use- 
ful member of the staff. The late David 
Graham Phillips, who heartily concurred 
in this view of the value of college English, 
was fond of telling the story of how and 
why he lost his first newspaper position. 
It was when he was fresh from his studies 
at Princeton, that after a good deal of 
persistence he obtained a position on a 
leading western newspaper, to which he 
offered his services free of salary. Al- 
though It was mid-winter and the city 
room was barn-like in temperature, he tells 
how he used to sit at his desk with the per- 
spiration of mental labour pouring from 
his brow, while he struggled to make liter- 
ature with a capital L from such material 
as ** This afternoon John Smith, a house- 
painter, fell off a ladder and broke his 
arm." Mr. Phillips had held his unsal- 
aried position for about ten days when the 
higher power who presided over the 



paper's destinies happened to come through 
the city room. "Who is that man?" he 
asked, indicating Mr. Phillips. The city 
editor explained. " Discharge him," came 
the curt mandate. " But we are getting 
him for nothing," protested the city editor. 
" I don't care if he is paying for the privi- 
lege," came the rejoinder; " discharge him 
immediately! I can't bear to see any hu- 
man being work so hard I " 

The trouble is that in writing we have 
confused the medium with the art ; we have 
been content, a good deal of the time, to 
teach language where we meant to teach 
technique. Writing differs from the other 
arts in this: that from earliest childhood, 
its medium of expression has been more 
or less familiar, more or less skilfully 
employed. A child of five who cannot 
put together simple sentences that express 
his physical needs is considered mentally 
deficient; whereas, if he can already whistle 



or sing a popular alf correctly his family 
indicate the fact with pride; and if he can 
draw a cow that really looks like a cow 
-and not like an abnormal table endowed 
with horns and tail, he is an infant prodigy. 
But if we could conceive of a race of in- 
telligent deaf mutes whose customary mode 
of communication was a highly developed 
picture language, then we might imagine 
a manual skill of draughtsmanship acquired 
from early childhood that would place the 
medium of the painter on an equality with 
that of the writer to-day. 

Now in our schools and colleges, with 
the best intentions in the world, what is 
actually achieved goes very little beyond 
an increased dexterity in the use of the 
medium, language. Grammar and rhet- 
oric, even the ability to say quite accu- 
rately certain simple and obvious things, do 
not make up the technique of good writ- 
ing, any more than the ability to draw a 

[ 28 ] 


circle or a straight line or to match colours 
makes up the technique of good painting. 
And even those few courses which the Eng- 
lish departments of our larger universi- 
ties have in recent years established for 
the benefit of their graduate students — 
courses in the structure of the short story 
and the play and the novel — ^although 
they are an encouraging step in the right 
direction, are not either in kind or in de- 
gree quite comparable to the practical 
training that is open to students in every 
other branch of art. The best instruction 
in any craft or profession is a practical 
training by someone who has already 
proved himself a master of it. The in- 
structors in our medical schools, our sem- 
inaries, our schools of law, are nearly al- 
ways men who have won their reputation in 
the sick chamber, the pulpit, the court- 
room. And this is the one logical source 
of learning. Yet in authorship the chance 



of working directly under the guidance of 
a master has, so far as I can recall, been 
exemplified in practice on a large scale 
only once in the history of letters — and 
that was In the special brand of historical 
romance tirelessly produced by the author 
of Les Trois Mousquetaires and his ap- 
prentices — ^satirically designated as Du- 
mas et Cie, Fahrique de Romans. College 
instruction in the art of writing is, with a 
few brilliant exceptions, given by men who 
are trained critics rather than creative 
writers — men who know infinitely more 
about taking a work to pieces than about 
putting it together. Dissecting Is an impor- 
tant part of class work In a course in bot- 
any, but It does not help us to a knowledge 
of how to grow a rose. And you will learn 
more about building a cathedral by watch- 
ing It go together, stone by stone, than by 
seeing a gang of professional wreckers 
dustily pulling it down. 



Are we to understand, then, someone 
win ask, that the English courses in col- 
leges and graduate schools are a waste 
of time? Emphatically no, not by any 
means, so long as we do not mistake the 
nature of their help. So far as they go 
they are of distinct value to a student with 
ambition for authorship — valuable in the 
same way that courses in literature and 
foreign languages are valuable; but they 
carry him no further in his technical train- 
ing than college courses in biology or con- 
stitutional history carry a student forward 
in the practice of medicine or the law. 

Professor A. S. Hill, whose English 
courses are a pleasant memory to Harvard 
men of the older generation, wrote pes- 
simistically only a few years ago, in a little 
volume entitled Our English: 

Under the most favourable conditions, the 
results of English composition as practiced in 
college are, it must be confessed, discouraging. 



The shadow of generations of perfunctory writers 
seems to rest upon the paper, and only here and 
there is it broken by a ray of light from the 
present. ... I know of no language — 
ancient or modern, civilized or savage — so in- 
sufficient for the purposes of language, so dreary 
and inexpressive, as theme-language in the mass. 

The practical question, then, Is : In the 
absence of special training-schools what 
advice should be given to a beginner? 
Are there any lines of special study that 
he may follow, any form of self-training 
that he may put himself through? The 
answer is: Yes, there Is the theoretical 
help of text-books on technique, and there 
is the practical training of journalism. 
But It is well to remember, on the one 
hand, that all the text-books ever written 
on the English novel will not make a novels 
ist, any more than Ruskln's Modern Paint' 
ers, even though committed to memory, 
would make a Mlllais or a Bouguereau. 



A newspaper training is a good, whole- 
some tonic, especially as an antidote to 
the stilted heaviness of the academic style. 
It gives a certain fluency, a certain collo- 
quial tone that makes for freedom. " To 
the wholesome training of severe newspa- 
per work when I was a very young man, I 
constantly refer my first successes," was 
Dickens's stereotyped reply to the questions 
of American reporters.* And yet one hesi- 

♦The late Edouard Rod declared himself even 
more emphatically in favour of a newspaper training: 
"Journalism is an excellent school: it stimulates slug- 
gish minds, it disciplines roving imaginations, it 
brings into direct contact with the public certain 
writers who otherwise would have remained unknown 
to the general public, and who during the process of 
becoming known, learn reciprocally to know their 
public. This is useful and healthy: because it is, af- 
ter all, for others that we write. . . . The school 
of journalism is exacting and wearisome, it is true; 
but that is not an evil. Certain writers, they tell you, 
in the slang of the editorial room, * write themselves 
dry ; ' but it is only those who had nothing of im- 
portance to lose." 



tates to recommend it with the same assur- 
ance with which it was to be recommended 
a quarter century ago. For if the younger 
generation of American writers have any 
one conspicuous fault in common, it is that 
of too journalistic a style. 

But there is one question which every 
amateur writer should ask himself in ad- 
vance of everything else, and that is: 
Has he the Inborn Talent? Has he any 
talent at all, anything worth the saying — 
worth, that is, the trouble of learning to 
say in the best possible manner? Has he 
ideas ? — not mere raw material, in the 
form of things seen and experiences lived 
— but ideas about them that may be of 
importance or interest to some portion of 
the world at large. Let us ask this direct 
question of every man and woman who 
reads these pages: Have you taken any 
pains to satisfy yourself that you possess 
this Inborn Talent? If not, do so without 



delay, before you scatter futile ink over 
another sheet of wasted paper. And It 
is not just a question of having or not 
having the creative Instinct, but of hav- 
ing it in sufficient degree to make Its de- 
velopment really worth while. For the 
Inborn Talent in a writer may be com- 
pared to the grade of ore In a mine — the 
question Is not simply whether there Is any 
precious metal there at all, but whether it 
is present In paying quantities. It is well 
to find out, if you can, just how richly 
your talent will assay, and then work it ac- 

But, you may retort, how is any one to 
find out whether he has talent? Who is 
to be the judge? How can the author 
himself or any one else know surely 
whether repeated rejections through a 
course of months mean hopeless medi- 
ocrity or the handicap of crude methods 
— whether Improvement Is a matter of 



being born again or merely of buckling 
down and laboriously learning the job? 
And just here, of course, lies the real diffi- 
culty of making this advice practical. 
No one can answer this first and most im- 
portant question for you — no one, at 
least, so authoritatively as to convince you 
even against your will. But you yourself 
can answer a few frank questions that will 
go a long way toward enlightening you: 
Why are you trying to write? What 
preparations have you had that make you 
believe you are qualified? How long ago 
did you begin to try? What sort of en- 
couragement have you so far received? 
These are questions which no one else can 
answer for you; for no two cases are pre- 
cisely alike. But you cannot answer them 
honestly without having a strong convic- 
tion steal over you either that you have or 
that you have not the Inborn Talent. 
Do you write, for instance, as the born 



artist paints or the born musician plays, 
because you feel a compelling necessity 
for self-expression? Or do you write 
as the house painter wields his brush or 
the barrel-organ man turns his handle, 
merely for the sake of the dollars or the 
dimes? Have you strong prejudices In 
regard to the kind of writing you are 
ready to do ? Or are you willing to write 
in any form, on any subject, from a sonnet 
to a breakfast food advertisement? Most 
of us at one time or another have found 
ourselves under the temporary necessity of 
doing something more or less in the nature 
of " hack-work,'' work that not only meant 
drudgery but that took us away from big- 
ger, finer things. Yet it is not the willing- 
ness to do " hack-work " and to do it 
cheerfully and thoroughly, when the oc- 
casion demands, that proves we lack the 
Inborn Talent — it Is the failure to dis- 
tinguish between what is " hack-work '* 



and what Is not; the spirit of indifference 
which looks upon all kinds of writing in- 
discriminately as a marketable produce, 
that degrades authorship from a profes- 
sion to a trade. 

Or again, what has been your prepara- 
tion, up to the time when you send off 
your first essay or poem or story, stamps 
enclosed, to take Its chances with some 
editor? Does your real apprenticeship 
begin now with Its toll of disappointments 
and delays; manuscripts that grow soiled 
and shabby and one by one are consigned 
to the waste-basket? Or have you been 
unconsciously apprenticed to literature 
from early childhood, surrounded by an 
atmosphere of books, absorbing, because 
you could not help it, correct Ideas of form 
and technique from the daily conversation 
around you? Are you still In the first en- 
thusiasm of youth with your views of life 
still mainly rose-coloured dreams? Or 



have you spent the first thirty or forty 
years of your life face to face with hard 
realities, in the activities of business or of 
travel and adventure — as a soldier of 
fortune rather than man of letters ? It does 
not follow that in the one case you have* 
the inborn literary instinct and that in the 
other you have not. Ruskin at the age of 
five had already entered upon his appren- 
ticeship. Before he had learned to write, 
he had taught himself a makeshift method 
of vertical printing with a pencil, and had 
undertaken a story in three-volume form, 
the name of which escapes the memory, 
and really does not matter. The sig- 
nificant thing about it is that this preco- 
cious child of five was already so saturated 
with the atmosphere of books, so familiar 
with their form and make-up, that with 
the imitative fidelity of his age, he added 
to his own work a carefully compiled page 
of errata. Sir Walter Besant, after hav- 



ing endured a six years' exile, occupying a 
Colonial Professorship on the island of 
Mauritius, records upon his return, "I be- 
gan life again at the age of thirty-one ; my 
capital was a pretty extensive knowledge 
acquired by voracious and indiscriminate 

Mr. Morgan Robertson, the writer of 
sea stories, is a conspicuous example of a 
man who for years had lived apart from 
books, one decade before the mast, and 
another as an expert diamond setter and 
then suddenly surprised himself by reveal- 
ing the Inborn Talent. But his is an ex- 
ceptional case. There are a good many 
men whose love of adventure has given 
them a rich variety of experience, whose 
early life has been spent in the danger- 
places of the world. They are apt to 
think that they possess the gift because 
they have the material — and yet these 
two things have practically nothing in 



common. It is not the material but 
the instinct to use it in the right way 
that makes the Inborn Talent. It is quite 
a common experience to have men come 
for advice who have spent years in queer, 
out-of-the-way corners of the earth and 
have had adventures rich in thrills and 
shudders, such as would make Robinson 
Crusoe or Treasure Island sound a little 
tame; and almost invariably what they say 
is this: "We have the material. Teach 
us the technique ! " Yet in the majority of 
cases even a knowledge of technique would 
probably not make stories that they would 
write sound otherwise than commonplace. 
For it is one of the commonest things in the 
world to find that men can live adventur- 
ous lives without being really aware of it 
in a big dramatic sense — that they can 
pass through places of great danger, 
inimitable strangeness, matchless beauty; 
and yet when they come to write them 



down, they might just as well be describing 
adventures in their own back yard. 

The Inborn Talent, then, is something 
distinct from thfe material of our experience 
and the technical use we make of that ma- 
terial. Just what it is proves rather baf- 
fling to define. But at least it includes sev- 
eral different elements: First, the art of 
really seeing — the artist's eye, which 
looks through and beyond the mere out- 
ward material aspect and sees the vision 
of some great, unpainted picture. Sec- 
ondly, a fine instinct for the value of words 
— a gift that is something quite different 
from mere richness of vocabulary on the 
one hand, and the possession of style, on the 
other. Vocabulary may be increased at 
will by patiently memorising a dictionary; 
and style is a matter of cadence and sound 
sequence — it is quite possible to write 
rather sad trash in an impeccable style. 
But a sense of the value of words, an in- 



stinct for finding, within the limits of our 
spoken language, the precise word and 
phrase that will as nearly as possible convey 
a thought that is perhaps bigger or subtler 
than any spoken words — this indeed 
stamps the possessor as having the In- 
born Talent. And lastly, it includes the 
possession of ideas, as distinct from knowl- 
edge. You may know a vast number of 
useful facts, such as that a straight line is 
the shortest distance between two points — 
but such knowledge no more constitutes the 
Inborn Talent than such a definition con- 
stitutes literature. But ideas, big, vital 
ideas, of the compelling sort that force 
themselves into written words, in the face 
of obstacles and disappointments and the 
inertia of public indifference, are the very 
essence of the creative spirit, the golden 
hallmark of the Inborn Talent. 






Let us assume, from this point onward, 
that any would-be writer, whose eye hap- 
pens to fall upon these pages, possesses in 
some degree that quality which is inborn 
and not made — the potential force of au- 
thorship. The next all-important ques- 
tion is, how is this inborn talent to be best 
developed? What is the first faculty for 
a young author to cultivate ? The answer 
may be given with emphatic assurance: 
TThe faculty of self-criticism. Yet a good 
many teachers will answer differently; they 
will tell you that in writing, as in every- 
thing else that is worth doing well, the 
one indispensable factor is perseverance, 
industry, the tenacity that sticks to a task 



until that task is mastered. In a certain 
sense the teachers who say this are right. 
There is just one way of learning to do a 
thing, and that is by doing it — doing it 
over and over, until the trick of it is mas- 
tered — and this holds just as true of the 
trick of constructing a short story as of 
that of kneading bread. But all the in- 
dustry in the world will not take you far if 
it is misdirected. No amount of wasted 
flour and wasted energy will make a baker 
of you, if you cannot tell good bread from 
bad — and no amount of straining thought 
and patient twisting and untwisting of the 
threads of a plot will make a good short 
story if you do not know the right twist 
from the wrong. 

For this reason, a young author who 
has developed the power of self-criticism 
enjoys a distinct advantage. He has 
within him the ability to help himself as no 
one else can help him. Others may tell 

[ 48 ] 


him whether his work Is good or bad ; but 
only the author himself Is in a position to 
know just what he was trying to do and 
how far short he has fallen of doing it. It 
Is easy for a critic of broad sympathies and 
keen discernment to point out a writer's 
faults and to show how a specific piece of 
bad writing may be worked over and im- 
proved. But in a big, general way It may 
be said boldly that no one can teach a 
writer how to remedy his faults, no one 
can provide a golden rule for his future 
avoidance of them. Suppose, for Instance, 
that an author's trouble is In plot construc- 
tion. It may be easy to tell him where his 
plot IS wrong and explain to him the prin- 
ciple that he has violated. But If he Is 
to obtain any real and lasting profit he 
must find out for himself how to set the 
trouble right. Of course, you might con- 
struct the plot for him — but then It would 
be your plot and not his ; you would be, not 


his teacher, but his collaborator; and his 
working out of your plot would almost 
surely result in bad work. Or suppose 
again that his fault is one of style. You 
may point out that his prose lacks rhythm, 
that his language is pompous, or high-col- 
oured, or vulgar. You may remedy spe- 
cific paragraphs with a rigorous blue pencil; 
but the writer must learn for himself how 
to acquire an ear for rhythm or a sense of 
good taste in word and phrase. 

Unfortunately the power to judge one's 
own work with the detachment and impar- 
tiality of an outsider is so rare a quality 
that we may seriously question whether any 
author ever acquires it in an absolute sense. 
Many writers of distinction have been to 
the end of their lives notoriously unable 
to discriminate l^etween their good work 
and their bad. Wordsworth is a flagrant 
case in point.* Mark Twain, in our own 

♦Walter Pater, in Appreciations, says: "Nowhere 



generation, is another — or else the genius 
that produced Tom Sawyer and Innocents 
Abroad would never have allowed such 
sorry stuff as Adaw/s Diary to don the dig- 
nity of print. Other writers, even some of 
the greatest, can get the proper outside 
perspective of their work only by some sys- 
tematic method, some mechanical device. 
Balzac, for instance, needed the imperson- 
ality of the printed page before he could 
judge the value of his writings or do any 
effective revision; it was only through re- 
is there so perplexed a mixture as in Wordsworth's 
own poetry, of work touched with intense and indi- 
vidual power, with work of almost no character at all. 
... Of all poets equally great he \^ould gain 
most by a skilfully made anthology." And similarly 
Lowell, in his essay entitled " Shakespeare Once 

" His (Wordsworth's) poems are Egyptian sand- 
wastes, with here and there an oasis of exquisite 
greenery, a grand image Sphynx-Hke, half burled in 
drifting commonplaces, or a solitary pillar of some 
towering thought." 



peated sets of proof sheets that much of 
his work slowly grew into final shape.* 

Now this vital power of self-criticism, 
which even great writers have, many of 
them, developed slowly and painfully, is 
at best rudimentary in the average begin- 
ner. Every writer, whether he will or not, 
puts a good deal of himself into his work; 
and every amateur writer is inordinately 
pleased with that part of his work which 
he feels to be distinctive, that quality which 
stamps It as his own. It may bristle with 
mannerisms, as a hedgehog bristles with 
spines — nevertheless it is the part dearest 
to him, the part that he is slowest to recog- 
nise as wrong. He cannot see himself as 
others see him. How is this rudimentary 
sense to be developed? First of all, it 
would seem, by learning to criticise others. 
Writing in this respect does not differ from 

* See page 163. 



shoeing a horse or making a pair of trou- 
sers. If you have not learned to judge 
whether a horse is well shod or a pair of 
trousers well cut, then you may go through 
life without knowing the quality of your 
own work as blacksmith or tailor. What 
you must do is to go to blacksmiths and to 
tailors of recognised skill and patiently 
study their methods and their results until 
you make yourself an expert on these sub- 
jects — 'perhaps, even, until you discover 
ways in which their work may be improved. 
And the same rule holds good, If instead 
of horseshoes and trousers you wish to learn 
the craftsmanship of essay and sonnet. 

Now, it IS far easier to say. Learn to 
criticise others, than it is to tell how to 
go to work to learn. But the first and 
weightiest rule Is this: begin by reading 
the best models in whatever line of work 
you are desirous of taking up. Go to the 



fountain-head, read the books themselves, 
don't read what someone else has written 
about them — or if you do, at least make 
such reading a secondary matter. If your 
chosen field Is the short story, spend your 
time In reading the recognised masterpieces 
of Poe and Maupassant, Kipling and O. 
Henry, In preference to the best text-book 
ever written on short-story structure. If 
your life work Is lyric poetry, then by all 
means read lyrics, memorise lyrics, the best 
you can find and the more the better. You 
may get some help from critical studies, 
but you will get vastly more from the 
knowledge which you slowly and labori- 
ously dig out for yourself. When some- 
one once wrote to Matthew Arnold on be- 
half of a young woman who thought that 
she possessed the poetic gift and wished to 
know If there was such a thing as a dic- 
tionary of rhymes, he replied : " There is 
a Rhyming Dictionary and there Is a book 


called a Guide to English Verse Compo- 
sition* But all this IS sad lumber, and the 
young lady had much better content herself 
with imitating the metres she finds most 
attract her in the poetry she reads. No- 
body, I imagine, ever began to good pur- 
pose in any other way.'* '^ 

It is rather surprising and extremely 
suggestive to find how many of the world's 
great writers were insatiable and omnivo- 
rous readers in early youth. Pope records 
that as a boy " I took to reading by myself, 
for which I had a very great eagerness and 
enthusiasm. ... I followed every- 
where as my fancy led me, and was like 
a boy gathering flowers in the fields and 
woods just as they fell his way." Moore, 
in his Life of Byron, gives a list which the 
author of Childe Harold jotted down from 
memory, of books read before he was 
twenty * — a list so varied and extensive 

* In the list referred to, the books are grouped under 


as to make many a mature man of letters 
of his day feel sadly delinquent. George 
Eliot, at about the same age, writes to a 
friend as follows: "My mind is an as- 
semblage of disjointed specimens of his- 
tory, ancient and modern, scraps of poetry 
picked up from Shakespeare, Cowper, 
Wordsworth and Milton; newspaper top- 
ics; morsels of Addison and Bacon, Latin 
verbs, geometry, entomology and chemis- 
try; reviews and metaphysics.'' Theophile 
Gautier is perhaps, the most extreme in- 

the headings, History, Biography, Law, Philosophy, 
Geography, Poetry, Eloquence, Divinity, and Miscel- 
laneous, concluding with the following paragraph: 
"All the books here enumerated I have taken down 
from memory. I recollect reading them and can 
quote passages from any mentioned. I have, of 
course, omitted several in my catalogue, but the greater 
part of the above I perused before the age of fifteen. 
... I have also read (to my regret at present) 
about four thousand novels, including the works of 
Cervantes, Fielding, Smollett, Richardson, Mackenzie, 
Sterne, Rabelais, Rousseau, etc." 



stance that can be cited. He learned to 
read at the age of five. " And since that 
time," he adds, " I may say, like Apelles, 
Nulla dies sine linea.'' And his biogra- 
pher, Maxime du Camp, says further; 

This IS literally true; I do not think there, 
ever existed a more indefatigable reader than 
Gautier. Any book was good enough to satisfy 
this tyrannical taste, that at times seemed to 
degenerate into a mania. . . • He took 
pleasure in the most mediocre novels, equally 
with books of high philosophic conceptions, and 
with works of pure science. He was devoured 
with the thirst for learning, and he used to say, 
" There is no conception so poor, no trash so de- 
testable, that it does not teach something from 
which one may profit." He would read diction- 
aries, grammars, prospectuses, cook-books, alman- 
acs. ... He had no sort of system about 
his reading; whatever book came under his hand 
he would open with a sort of mechanical move- 
ment, nor lay it down again until he had turned 
the closing page. 



Now there may be some disadvantages 
in this sort of voracious and undisciplined 
reading, In which many a famous author 
has confessedly indulged. But at least it 
tends toward forming an independent taste 
and avoiding the slavish echoing of cut- 
and-dried academic judgments. In an es- 
say entitled " Is it Possible to Tell a Good 
Book from a Bad One?" Mr. Augustine 
Birrell remarks pertinently: "To admire 
by tradition is a poor thing. Far better 
really to admire Miss Gabblegoose's nov- 
els than to pretend to admire Miss Aus- 
ten's." There is nothing so deadening to 
the critical faculty as the blind acceptance 
of text-book and encyclopedic verdicts. 
No critical estimate of any author, living 
or dead, is ever quite final. As Anatole 
France is fond of reminding us, even 
Homeri has not been admired for precisely 
the same reasons during any two consecu- 
tive centuries. " The works that everyone 



admires are those that no one examines. 
We receive them as a precious burden, 
which we pass on to others without having 
looked at them." And in much the same 
vein, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes once 
wrote: " Nothing is interesting to all the 
world. An author who is spoken of as 
universally admired will find, if he is fool- 
ish enough to inquire, that there are not 
wanting intelligent persons who are indif- 
ferent to him, nor yet those who have a 
special emphatic dislike to him." Unless 
you are devoid of literary taste, you must 
find pleasure in a certain number of the 
recognised masters; but you are under no 
obligation to admire them all.* The abil- 
ity to give an intelligent reason' for differ- 
ing from the accepted estimate of Milton, 

♦This is practically the thought of Thoreau, when 
he wrote: " If the writers of the brazen age are most 
suggestive to thee, confine thyself to them and leave 
those of the Augustan age to dust and the bookworm." 



or Fielding, or Dickens, is not a bad test 
of the possession of the critical gift. " A 
man," says George Eliot, "who dares to 
say that he finds an eminent classic feeble 
here, extravagant there, and in general 
overrated, may chance to give an opinion 
which has some genuine discrimination in 
it concerning a new worker or a living 

As a basis, then, for forming a sound 
critical estimate of books, one needs : first, 
a broad acquaintance with the best authors, 
the wider and more catholic the better; 
secondly, an open and independent mind. 
If, beyond this, your taste happens to run 
to a serious study of criticism, its history, 
Its methods, its controversies, all this will 
tend to strengthen your self-confidence and 
sureness of touch. Yet, for the purpose of 
craftsmanship, the principles on which to 
judge a book are few and simple. You 
are not required to dogmatise about the ul- 



timate value, In the universal scheme of 
things, of the newest novel or the youngest 
verse. As a craftsman you are interested 
primarily in its possible present value to 
you. Accordingly, there is just one way 
in which to judge the books you read, the 
new books equally with the old: and that 
is, to ask yourself what was the author's 
underlying purpose, what special means 
he took to accomplish it, and whether or 
not he attained his goal. The further 
question, whether the thing was worth do- 
ing at all, concerns the craftsman only in- 
directly — just as the question whether a 
cube and cone and pyramid are worth re- 
producing in black and white need never 
trouble the art student. If his purpose is 
to draw a cube or a cone, then his one con- 
cern is to find out how to do it in the best 
possible way. The moral or ethical value 
of a painting or a book Is not a' part of the 
craftsmanship of art or of literature. The 


one paramount question is always : What 
did the author try to do, and how near did 
he come to doing it? This form of criti- 
cism, which seeks to classify books accord- 
ing to the author^s purpose, is very nearly 
what Mr. Howells had in mind when he 
wrote : 

It is hard for the critic to understand that it is 
really his business to classify and analyse the 
fruits of the human mind very much as the nat- 
uralist classifies the objects of his study, rather 
than to praise or blame them; that there is a 
measure of the same absurdity In his trampling 
on a poem, a novel or an essay that does not please 
him as in a botanist grinding a plant underfoot 
because he does not find it pretty. He does not 
conceive that it is his business rather to identify 
the species, and then explain how and where the 
species Is Imperfect and irregular. 

It has already been said that the young 
writer can get comparatively small aid 



from volumes of criticism and mono- 
graphs on how to write ; that he should go 
to the authors who have produced litera- 
ture rather than to those who tell others 
how to produce it. There is, however, one 
class of critical essay, the importance of 
which, to the young writer, can hardly be 
overrated; and that is the criticism written 
by men who have proved themselves mas- 
ters of the art they criticise. I have in 
mind such essays as that of Poe, in which 
he analyses the structure of The Raven; 
Maupassant's introduction to Pierre et 
Jean; and Valdes's introduction to La Her- 
mana San Sulpicio; Trollope's chapter on 
the novel in his Autobiography; and in 
general the various critical writings of 
Zola and Anatole France, Henry James 
and William Dean Howells — the list 
could be amplified at pleasure — in which 
they allow themselves to theorise freely 
about their conception of the art they prac- 



tise and the methods by which they strlv'e 
to produce their results. Every page of 
such criticism is in the nature of a crafts^ 
man's confessions — they are full of price- 
less illumination. 

Yet It cannot be too strongly insisted 
that, In writing far more than in painting, 
there Is a great deal that cannot be taught 
and that you must think out for yourself. 
One reason, undoubtedly, is that the crafts- 
manship of letters is more elastic than that 
of the other arts — there Is scope for a 
greater freedom and originality. Henry 
James, In The Art of Fiction, shrewdly 
says: "The painter is able to teach the 
rudiments of his practice, and it Is possible, 
from the study of good work (granted the 
aptitude) both to learn how to paint and 
to learn how to write. Yet . . . the 
literary artist would be obliged to say to 
his pupil much more than the other, * Oh, 
well, you must do It as you can.' " Again, 



there are some things which an author can- 
not teach because he does not quite know 
how or why he did a certain thing. Often- 
times a novelist achieves some of his hap- 
piest results unconsciously,* and by sheer in- 
stinct; and then, again, a carefully planned 
chapter or in some cases an entire vol- 
ume fails of its effect, and the reason of the 
failure eludes him.f These are the sort 

♦Thackeray, in Vanity Fair, writing the chapter de- 
scribing how Rawdon Crawley, released from the 
sponging house, returns to his home to find Lord 
Steyne in Becky's company and hurls the noble black- 
guard to the ground, gives the final touch with 
"Becky admired her husband, strong, brave and vic- 
torious." After he had written these words the novel- 
ist dropped his pen and brought his fist down on the 
table. "By God! That's a stroke of genius!" 

t Mr. Henry James's own confessions regarding The 
Aivkivard Age, contained in the preface to the " New 
York Edition," seems very much to the point: "That 
I did, positively and seriously — ah, so seriously ! — 
emulate the levity of Gyp and by the same token, of 
that hardiest of flowers fostered in her school, M. 
Henri Lavedan, is a contribution to the history of The 


of questions which a young writer should 
have constantly before him, in all his read- 
ing : Why is a certain chapter tedious and 
a certain other chapter tingling with an 
almost painful suspense ? And did the au- 
thor mean to achieve these results, or has 
he simply failed in what he tried to do? 
Take, for example, two passages from Kip- 

Aivkivard Age that I shall obviously have had to 
brace myself In order to make. . . . My private 
inspiration had been in the Gyp plan (artfully dis- 
simulated, for dear life, and applied with the very 
subtlest consistency, but none the less kept in secret 
view) ; yet I was to fail to make out in the event that 
the book succeeded in producing the impression of any 
plan on any person. No hint of that sort of success, 
or of any critical perception at all in relation to the 
business, has ever come my way. ... I had 
meanwhile been absent in England, and it was not 
until my return, some time later, that I had from my 
publisher any news of our venture. But the news 
then met at a stroke all my curiosity: *I am sorry to 
say the book has done nothing- to speak of ; I've never 
in all my experience seen one treated with more gen' 
eral and complete disrespect.' " 



ling; not perhaps the best we might find 
for the purpose, but at least they are to the 
point — the one conveying the sense of 
dragging, monotonous hours, the other 
that of tremendous speed, the conquest of 
time and space. On the one hand we have 
in The Light that Failed the unforgettable 
picture of Dick sitting, day after day, in 
his unending darkness, dumbly turning over 
Maisie's letters, which he is never to read; 
on the other, in Captains Courageous, we 
see Harvey Cheyne's father speeding across 
the breadth of the American continent, 
goaded by an intolerable impatience to 
reach the son, whom by a miracle the waves 
have given back to him. Now, the first 
case is flawless. The second, much praised 
and often quoted, is off the key. That 
private car of the elder Cheyne, " hum- 
ming like a giant bee '' across mountain and 
prairie, by the very sense of motion it con- 
veys, robs us of a true perception of the 



way in which time seems to drag to the im- 
patient man within it. 

But above all, in your reading, do not 
be content with studying the so-called 
masterpieces of literature. It is wise to 
know the Decameron and Don Quixote^ 
Richardson, and Smollett, and Sterne; 
but the modern writer can no more de- 
pen Jupon them as models than the modern 
painter can depend upon Botticelli and 
Ghirlandajo. A knowledge of Elisa- 
bethan footgear, or of the relative artistic 
value of the moccasin and the sabot, is of 
little value to a modern shoemaker. What 
he wants to know is how shoes, the best 
sort of shoes, are made to-day, by the lat- 
est methods. And it is precisely the same 
with literature. There is no demand to- 
day for a new Hamlet, a second Paradise 
Lost, another Sir Roger de Coverley, or 
even a Tom Jones, David Copperfield or 
Vanity Fair, The technique of writing is 


constantly in a state of transition; and 
however much we may delight in the meth- 
ods of a generation or a century ago, we 
do not tolerate them at the hands of mod- 
ern writers. Take for instance the modern 
novel ; its form and structure — one might 
almost say its spirit, too — have been rad- 
ically changed from that of Thackeray 
and Dickens. And it does not help us 
nearly so much, as writers, to know which 
of the two is the greater novelist, as to 
understand in what respects Henry James 
and Maupassant are better craftsmen than 
either of them. Professor Woodberry, in 
The Appreciation of Literature, insists 
that, even for the general reader, "the 
serious study of one's own literature is 
most fruitfully begun by acquaintance with 
those authors who are in vogue and nearly 
contemporary." In the case of the would- 
be writer it is not merely most fruitful, 
but absolutely imperative, to keep abreast 

C 69 ] 


of the best contemporary work that is done 
in the field of his own labours. And by 
** best work " I do not mean only such 
books as seem likely to stand the test of 
time, books that are unmistakably big in 
theme, in purpose and in technical skill: 
contemporary works of this class are so 
few that the apprentice's lesson would be 
soon ended. No, I go much further than 
that and include all the new books which ex- 
hibit even in some single direction, an en- 
couraging tendency, the evidence of some 
problem faced and solved, some interest- 
ing innovation attempted. Above all, in 
your reading, avoid that narrow provincial 
spirit that limits your range to the works 
of your own countrymen. The American 
writer cannot afford to ignore what is be- 
ing done in his own field by Englishmen. 
And if he has the time and the gift of 
languages he will be the broader and bet- 
ter artist for keeping abreast of the best 



thought and best work of France and Ger- 
many and Italy. 

And in all your studies let the two great 
essentials, reading and writing, go hand In 
hand. Clarify your impressions by trans- 
ferring them to paper. They may never 
be of value to anyone else, but they will 
be of inestimable service to you, as mile- 
stones of your own progress. " Of late 
years," wrote Trollope at the close of his 
Autobiography, " I have found my greatest 
pleasure in our old English dramatists, not 
from excessive love of their work, but 
from curiosity in searching their plots and 
examining their character. If I live a few 
years longer, I shall, I think, leave in my 
copies of these dramatists, down to the 
close of James I., written criticisms on 
every play." In Zola's published Lettres 
de Jeunesse, letters written between the 
ages of twenty and twenty-two, the chief 
interest centres in their testimony of the 



eagerness with which he devoured books, 
the earnestness with which he thought 
about them, and the enthusiasm with which 
he poured out his opinions upon paper. 
Through those rapid, immature and often 
turgid pages one sees already the germs of 
ideas that later came to fruition, the ori- 
gin of many of his articles of literary faith. 
And not so far removed was the method 
by which an author of widely different 
quality and creed learned his craftsman- 
ship. This paragraph from Stevenson's 
letters, though often quoted, will hurt no 
one to read once again : 

All through my boyhood and youth I was 
known and pointed out for the pattern of an idler ; 
and yet I was always busy on my private end, 
which was to learn to write. I always kept two 
books in my pocket, one to read, the other to 
write in. As I walked, my mind was busy fitting 
what I saw with appropriate words; when I sat 
by the roadside, I would either read, or a pencil 



and a penny version-book would be in my hand, 
to note down the features of the scene or com- 
memorate some halting stanzas. . . . And 
what I wrote was for no ulterior use; it was 
written consciously for practice. ... I had 
vowed that I would learn to write. That was 
a proficiency that tempted me, and I practiced, 
to acquire it, as a man learns to whittle, in a 
wager with myself. 

But in all your studies of other writers, 
the living and the dead, cultivate independ- 
ence. Never slavishly imitate. Take 
what you find best from the technique of 
each book you read and reject the rest. 
Notice what qualities and what defects the 
authors you read have in common and what 
are their individual sins and virtues. In 
learning your lesson from them, do not 
be afraid of independence, so long as you 
know the reason why. But as Miss Ellen 
Terry remarks aptly, in her volume of au- 
tobiography, before you are allowed to be 



eccentric you must have learned where the 
centre is. Mistrust the extravagant indi- 
vidualism of youth ; realise that there is no 
virtue in being different, unless the dif- 
ference produces some deliberately sought 
result. To come down from your apart- 
ment by the fire-escape will no doubt make 
you conspicuous — but there is really no 
point in doing so unless the elevator has 
stopped running and the stairs ^ are on 
fire. In writing we want some better and 
more logical reason for eccentricity than a 
mere peacock vanity, a desire to attract at- 
tention. Where a literary form is well es- 
tablished, do your share in maintaining it, 
excepting when you have some excellent 
reason for making a change. The chances 
are that in doing a thing differently from 
the established formula you will not do it 
half so well. Only a madman would try 
to write a sonnet in fifteen lines, just for 
the sake of being different from others. 



Yet George Meredith made use of a six- 
teen-line form of verse In his Modern 
Love, which Is often loosely spoken of as a 
sonnet sequence — and he was justified in 
doing so because he knew exactly why he 
did It. The poem Is not merely a series of 
separate and complete thoughts, connected 
by a single thread, like pearls strung on the 
same string, after the fashion of Shakes- 
peare's sonnets, or the Sonnets from the 
Portuguese. They form a continuous 
piece of narrative, and for that reason the 
extra two lines help the forward movement, 
where the formal sestet of the sonnet 
would have continually broken in with a 
misplaced sense of finality. Many a rule 
of rhetoric and prosody and technique may 
be broken — provided always that you 
have a reason that justifies you. The early 
stories of Kipling fairly bristled with 
strange phrases, words forced into new 
partnerships, and what Mr. Gosse has 



called " the noisy, newspaper bustle of his 
little peremptory sentences." And yet, 
more often than not, he justified himself, 
because he knew so well what he was about 
— and knew also that he was succeeding In 
expressing his thoughts a little better than 
they could have been expressed In any other 
and more conventional way. So remem- 
ber, in writing, to be Independent; on oc- 
casion be even boldly innovative, so long 
as you can be so intelligently. 





THE author's purpose 

At the moment of beginning this chapter, 
which is to concern itself with The Au- 
thor's Purpose, a memory comes back, very 
clear and distinct, of a certain Sunday 
many years ago, and of a rather prim old 
lady who had been to hear an eccentric and 
sensational preacher, and who came away 
shaking her head and murmuring in scan- 
dalised wonderment : " Why, he didn't 
even give out a text! " Now, whether 
the preacher really had dispensed with a 
text or whether the bewildered old lady 
had simply lost sight of it is immaterial; 
what does matter is that in the sermon we 
have at least one type of composition in 
which there is a clearly understood conven- 



tion that the writer's purpose shall be de- 
fined beyond all question, and at the very 
start. In other literary forms, unfortu- 
nately, the need of having a purpose is more 
easily overlooked, because that purpose is 
more or less disguised, instead of being em- 
bodied in a specified chapter and verse. 
Yet, the mere circumstance that the poet 
and the novelist, for instance, differ from 
the preacher In not having to announce In 
advance the theme of their discourse does 
not alter the fact that " Beauty is truth, 
truth beauty," is the text of the Ode on a 
Grecian Urn, and that Owen Wister's The 
Virginian is an eloquent attempt to recon- 
cile the New England conscience to the 
rude ethics of Western justice. 

Now, the average person who might be 
very quick to note the omission of a Sunday 
morning text will quite complacently read 
a novel or a short story that does not pos- 
sess even a rudimentary central idea with- 



out being aware that there is anything 
wrong with it. But wait until someone 
happens to ask such a reader what the book 
he chances to be reading Is about. If the 
answer is crisp and concise you may know 
without reading it yourself that the book 
has something In it that Is worth while ; if, 
on the contrary, the answer comes uncer- 
tainly and long-drawn out, something to 
the effect that "It is about a man and a 
girl and they are talking together and a 
lot of things have happened," and so on In- 
definitely, you may be pretty sure that the 
book has no central idea at all. 

Now the one way of bringing home to 
a young writer the necessity of having a 
definite purpose is to make him form the 
habit of literary criticism which was urged 
In the preceding chapter. After we have 
once learned to ask ourselves regarding 
each new poem or essay or novel that comes 
our way: Did the author know what he 


was trying to do and has he succeeded in 
doing It? — then we are in a position to 
know that the most exasperating of all 
books is that which apparently has no cen- 
tral idea, no definite purpose — the amor- 
phous, jelly-fish type of book that can no 
more be measured by a definite standard 
than we can measure a puff of cigarette 
smoke. And almost equally hopeless is the 
book in which the author has confused his 
purposes, leaving us vaguely guessing be- 
tween several solutions ; or, again, the book 
in which the author*s purpose and form are 
hopelessly out of proportion — either a lit- 
tle tupenny purpose, like a seed pearl bur- 
ied in a gypsy setting; or else a great big 
ethical principle squandered on a triolet, 
like a Koh-i-noor set for a little finger-ring. 
When we learn to recognise what bad work- 
manship these fundamental faults produce 
in others, then we are prepared to lay down 
the following rules for our own work : that 



we will always begin with a clearly defined 
purpose, single, not complex ; that this pur- 
pose shall receive consistent development 
from the first line of our work to the last ; 
and that we shall strive for a nicely bal- 
anced relationship between our central pur- 
pose and the setting we have chosen for it. 
It IS well, however, to understand at 
the outset just what we mean by this 
term, The Author's Purpose. It is used 
in this chapter in a very broad and elas- 
tic sense. It is something far broader 
than a deliberate intention to teach a 
lesson or to preach a creed — although 
these of course are among the subdivisions 
of the author's purpose. Perhaps the 
most general, all-embracing definition that 
may be given is to call it simply the thing 
which the author has set his heart upon 
saying, the one main idea that he must get 
across to his audience, whether he succeeds 
in saying anything else or not. It comes 



very near to being synonymous with the 
germ idea, the nucleus or starting point of 
the whole work — but for the fact that an 
author's starting-point, the initial incident, 
the intuitive flash or whatever it may be 
that sets him moving along a particular 
path, may in some special cases be alto- 
gether lost to sight by the time he is ready 
to write his opening sentence. 

Now it makes no difference when or 
where or how a writer stumbles upon the 
idea which is to serve as his central pur- 
pose. It may spring from his head at a mo- 
ment's notice like Athena, full armoured — • 
as was the case with the late Frank Norris, 
who, as has often been told, came one morn- 
ing to his publisher's office, pale and trem- 
bling all over with excitement, and gasping 
out, almost inarticulately, " IVe got a big 
idea! A great big idea! The biggest 
idea ever!" It was the outlined scheme 
for his trilogy of the Epic of the Wheat — -■ 


the trilogy which began with The Octopus 
and The Pit, and which poor Norris did 
not live to round out with The fVolf,^ Or, 
again, the controlling purpose of a work 
may not be born until the structure has 
risen some distance toward completion and 
the author suddenly discovers that he is 
building better than he knew. But when 
this happens he must look carefully to his 

* Compare the account given by de Louvenjoul of 
Balzac's first conception of the idea of bringing to- 
gether under one title, La Comedie Humaine, all the 
novels he had already published. He hutried to 
the house of his sister, Mme. Surville, to announce 
the great event. His sister beheld him enter the 
parlor with his hat slightly tilted over one ear, his 
chest thrust out, his walking stick held aloft, like the 
staff of a drum-major, while from between his lips 
came a martial " Boom, boora-de-de boom ! " and he 
strode forward in cadenced solemnity, as if he were 
actually at the head of a regiment. Reaching the 
sofa where his sister sat, he suddenly came to a halt: 
then in a tone that was at once grave and comical, 
he said: 

"Madam, salute a Genius!" 



foundations to see if they be stout enough 
to bear the weight of the heavier structure. 
Otherwise it would be better to tear it 
down, stone from stone, and begin all over 
again. No thumb rule can be given for 
the discovery or manufacture of the Au- 
thor's Purpose. If you find yourself com- 
pelled to ask, like the little prince in Les 
Rois En Exile, *^ Donnez moi des idees sur 
les chosesy then you had better lay aside 
your ambition to write.* But perhaps the 

♦Interesting in this connection is Daudet's own 
statement of the origin of Kings in Exile: 

" Of all my books this {Kings in Exile) is unques- 
tionably the one which I found most difficulty in 
standing on its feet, the one which I carried longest 
in my head in the stage of title and vague outline, as 
it appeared to me one October evening on Place du 
Carrousal, in the tragic rent in the Parisian sky caused 
by the fall of the Tuileries. 

"Dethroned princes exiling themselves in Paris af- 
ter their downfall, taking up their quarters on Rue de 
Rivoli, and when they woke in the morning and raised 
the shades at their windows, discovering those ruins — 
such was the first vision of Kings in Exile." 



advice given by Thoreau is as good as any 
that can be devised for stimulating a slug- 
gish imagination: 

It would be a true discipline for the writer to 
take the least film of thought that floats in the 
twilight sky of his mind for his theme, about 
which he has scarcely one idea (that would be 
teaching his ideas how to shoot), make a lec- 
ture of this, by assiduity and attention get per- 
chance two views of the same, increase a little 
the stock of knowledge, clear a new field instead 
of manuring the old. 

The great trouble is that ideas, real ideas 
such as are likely to be of any importance 
or interest to a considerable number of peo- 
ple, are not so plentiful as to be easily 
found. They frequently represent well- 
nigh half the battle in a literary achieve- 
ment of any importance. It is always so 
much easier to echo than to originate. One 
thing is certain: the central idea will not 
come at command; it must be patiently 



hoped for, watched for, struggled for; it 
usually represents a good deal of hard 
work and a good deal of discouragement. 
Gibbon, as the whole world knows, re- 
ceived his inspiration for his monumental 
history one evening in Rome, as he sat mus- 
ing among the ruins of the Capitol, while 
the barefooted friars were singing vespers 
in the Temple of Jupiter. Yet he records, 
regarding the subsequent writing of his 
history: ^ 

At the outset, all was dark and doubtful ; even 
the title of the work, the true era of the Decline 
and Fall of the Empire, the limits of the intro- 
duction, the division of the chapters, and the order 
of the narrative; and I was often tempted to 
cast away the labour of seven years. 

The uncertainty, the false start, the 
work which must be begun anew and on a 
different plan, have all been rather elo- 
quently generalised by Mr. Henry James 
in his preface to The Awkward Age: 


When I think of my many false measurements 
that have resulted, after much anguish, in decent 
symmetries, I find the whole case a theme for 
the philosopher. The little ideas one wouldn't 
have treated save for the design of keeping them 
small, the developed situation that one would 
never with malice prepense have undertaken, the 
long stories that had thoroughly meant to be 
short, the short subjects that had underhandedly 
plotted to be long, the hypocrisy of modest be- 
ginnings, the audacity of misplaced middles, the 
triumph of intentions never entertained — with 
these patches, as I look about, I see my experience 
paved: an experience to which nothing is want- 
ing save some grasp of its final lesson. 

Occasionally it may happen that the 
central idea comes in a sort of miraculous 
flash, an Inspiration, a dream, such as was 
the case with Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and 
Mr, Hyde: " In the small hours of one 
morning," says Mrs. Stevenson, " I was 
awakened by cries of horror from Louis. 



Thinking he had a nightmare, I awakened 
him. He said angrily, * Why did you wake 
me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.' 
I had awakened him at the first transfor- 
mation scene." So clearly did Stevenson 
have his germ idea in mind that the tale 
was written off in all the white heat of in- 
spiration; yet it is recorded that that first 
draft had to be destroyed and the work be- 
gun anew, because the original plan lacked 
what we now think of as the underlying 
idea of the whole story, namely, the dual 
nature of the hero. In Stevenson's first 
conception Dr. Jekyll was equally bad at 
heart in both his natural and his acquired 

Now it is quite true that the author's 
purpose, as a question of craftsmanship, 
concerns no one but himself; but there is 
one important reservation. The author's 
purpose must be suited to the literary form 
in which he chooses to work. He must 



decide In advance whether he means to be 
a preacher or an artist; for he cannot suc- 
cessfully be both. If he Is a born fighter 
and his chosen weapons are words, It makes 
no difference which side of a controversy 
he espouses; he may fight for Whigs or 
Tories, slavery or emancipation, Christian 
Science or the Church of Rome — but to 
succeed he must put the whole vigour of 
his personality into it. Polemics can never 
be successfully made a matter of art for 
art's sake. On the other hand, In pure lit- 
erature, whatever private feelings an au- 
thor may have, whatever bias he may let 
us guess at, he has no business to Intrude It 
deliberately Into his written text. Mr. 
Frederic Harrison In his Memories and 
Thoughts has expressed this same Impor- 
tant truth In a way that makes for remem- 
brance : 

Mark Pattlson, of Oxford, used to say to a 
pupil who happens now to be both a brilliant 



writer and a leading statesman : " My good 
friend, you are not the stuff of which men of 
letters are made. You want to make people do 
something or you want to teach something. 
That IS fatal to pure literature." 

Once or twice in my life I have taken up the 
pen in a vein of literary exercise, as a man turns 
to a game of billiards or to gardening after his 
day's work. But the demon soon arises and I 
find myself in earnest, trying to bring men over 
to one side. It is hopeless to make a man of 
letters out of a temper like that. Literature is 
art, and the artist should never preach.* 

♦And Lord Macaulay, writing of poetry in his 
Essay on Milton, comes curiously near saying the same 
thing in slightly different words: 

" Analysis is not the business of the poet. His office 
is to portray, not to dissect. His creed . . . will 
no more influence his poetry, properly so called, than 
the notions which a painter may have conceived re- 
specting the lachrymal glands or the circulation of 
the blood will aflFect the tears of his Niobe or the 
blushes of his Aurora. If Shakespeare had written a 
book on the motives of human actions, it is by no 
means certain that it would have been a good one." 



And similarly Marion Crawford in his 
little monograph on The Novel: What It 
Is, writes as follows: 

In art of all kinds the moral lesson is a mis- 
take. It is one thing to exhibit an ideal worthy 
to be imitated, though inimitable in all its per- 
fection, but so clearly noble as to appeal directly 
to the sympathetic string that hangs untuned in 
the dullest heart; to make man brave without 
arrogance, woman pure without prudishness, love 
enduring yet earthly, not angelic, friendship sin- 
cere but not ridiculous. It is quite another mat- 
ter to write a " guide to morality," or a " hand- 
book for practical sinners " and call either one 
a novel, no matter how much fiction it may con- 
tain. Wordsworth tried the moral lesson and 
spoiled some of his best work with botany and 
the Bible. 

It is the disregard of this important ax- 
iom of literature that has produced that 
hybrid monstrosity, the so-called Novel- 
with-a-Purpose. Of all the purposes which 



by any chance may actuate a writer the 
most mistaken purpose and the one most 
destructive to good art is that of forcibly 
bringing people over to think as he does 
by a deliberate and conscienceless distor- 
tion of life as we see it around us. There 
was not merely a degree of grotesqueness 
in the old-fashioned Sunday-school story 
of the good little boy who had plum pud- 
ding and the bad little boy who went fish- 
ing and was drowned. There was an im- 
morality about it as well, the immorality 
that always attaches to a deliberate perver- 
sion of our experiences of life. And the 
same immorality attaches to any novelist 
who takes upon himself the privilege of the 
Deity and says " Vengeance is mine," for- 
getful of the fact that in this world at least 
rewards and punishments of human acts 
are meted out quite inexorably in accord- 
ance with the laws of nature. 

Having digressed to this extent upon 



the special subject of the purpose novel, 
we must in fairness go a little further 
in order to make clear a distinction 
about which a good deal of confusion ex- 
ists in the minds of many readers and writ- 
ers. It may be defined as the distinction 
between the Novel-with-a-Purpose, on the 
one hand, and the Author-with-a-Purpose, 
on the other. There is no logical reason 
why an author should not have the strong- 
est sort of prejudices, convictions, enthusi- 
asms; only, he must not be trying to force 
them down the reader's throat. He may 
believe, like Harriet Beecher Stowe, that 
slavery is a crime ; he may agree with Zola 
that race suicide is a national menace. A 
sincere belief of that sort is the surest guar- 
antee of powerful workmanship, so long as 
the author records only what he sees, so 
long as he remembers that life itself is 
the most potent teacher of its own les- 
sons. But so soon as he becomes mistrust- 



ful or impatient of life and tries dishon- 
estly to magnify the facts and distort sta- 
tistics, then his book becomes a Novel- 
with-a-Purpose, more potent to antagonise 
than to convince. A good object lesson 
on the distinction between the Novel-with- 
a-Purpose and the Author-with-a-Purpose 
is afforded by the Russians. Owing to 
Russian censorship writers with strong 
doctrines to preach found themselves 
driven to the form of fiction as the only 
vehicle in which the lessons they wished 
to teach could reach the public. But they 
were wise enough to recognise that the ex- 
isting conditions around them, the condi- 
tions they were most eager to correct, 
would speak for themselves without any 
perversion or interference In their part. 
As Mr. Howells in My Literary Passions 
forcefully puts it: 

When I remembered the deliberate and impa- 



tient moralising of Thackeray, the clumsy ex- 
egesis of George Eliot, the knowing nods and 
winks of Charles Reade, the stage-carpeting and 
limelighting of Dickens, and even the fine and 
impotent analysis of Hawthorne, it was with a 
joyful enthusiasm that I realised the great art 
of Tourguenief . . . here was a master 
who was apparently not trying to work out a plot, 
who was not even trying to work out a char- 
acter, but was standing aside from the whole 
affair and letting the characters work the plot 

But whatever a writer's purpose may 
be, and whatever type of literature he has 
chosen in which to express it, he has got tq 
do something more than Idly say to him- 
self one fine day, " I think I will write (let 
us say) a sonnet about a pearl, or a novel 
about the beef trust," — and then on an- 
other fine day formulates his first line or 
his opening sentence without the slightest 
idea what Is coming next or where he even- 



tually proposes to arrive. He must take 
the time and trouble to sit down and work 
out in detail just precisely what he is try- 
ing to do and what is the best way of do- 
ing it. It is not only in the department 
of the drama that a scenario is indispen- 
sable. Every piece of writing that aspires 
to be anything more than ephemeral is as 
much in need of a detailed ground plan as 
a Gothic cathedral or a modern office 
building. All beginners who cherish the 
dangerous fallacy that a masterpiece of 
prose or verse can be flung off in a white 
heat of inspiration would do well to commit 
to memory a large part of Poe's essay on 
The Philosophy of Composition^ of which 
the following are perhaps the most weighty 
and apposite paragraphs: 

Most writers, — poets in especial, — prefer to 
have it understood that they compose by a species 
of fine frenzy — an ecstatic intuition ; and would 



positively shudder at letting the public take a 
peep behind the scenes at the elaborate and vacil- 
lating conditions of thought, at the true pur- 
poses seized only at the last moment, at the in- 
numerable glimpses of ideas that arrived not at 
the maturity of full viev^r, at the fully matured 
fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable, at 
the cautious selection and rejection, at the pain- 
ful erasures and interpolations — in a word, at 
the vrheels and pinions, the tackle of scene-shift- 
ing, the step-ladders and demon-traps, the cock's 
feathers, the red paint and the black patches, 
which in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred 
constitute the properties of the literary histrio. 

For my own part, I have neither sympathy 
with the repugnance alluded to, nor at any 
time the least difficulty in recalling to mind the 
progressive steps of any of my compositions; and 
since the interest of an analysis or reconstruc- 
tion, such as I have considered a desideratum, is 
quite independent of any real or fancied interest 
in the things analysed, it will not be regarded 
as a breach of decorum on my part to show the 
modus operandi by which some one of my own 



works was put together. I select The Raven 
as most generally known. It is my design to 
render it manifest that no one point in its com- 
position is referable either to accident or intuition ; 
that the work proceeded step by step to its com- 
pletion with the precision and rigid consequence 
of a mathematical problem. 

Poe, of course, is an extreme case. A 
poem or a story that develops with the 
rigid consequence of a mathematical prob- 
lem is necessarily too artificial to pass as 
a transcript from life. But a study of 
Poe's analysis of The Raven — quite aside 
from the question whether he actually 
wrote the poem, as he says he did, or 
merely succeeded in making himself think 
he did so * — compels us to face, for our- 

*Poe wrote the Raven, later the genesis of this 
Raven. This — the after-stroke — American pleas- 
antry, no doubt, but admired and emulated by our 
young school. The devil of the thing is to find the 
raven, the dry sob, the foreboding nevermore. — Daudet, 
Notes from Life. 


THE author;? ,reXP9?^^i}i'i i\ 

selves, In all our own work, the artistic 
demand for unity of effect, simplicity of 
means, singleness of purpose. Learn to 
do as much as possible of the sheer drudg- 
ery of composition at the start; every 
hour spent In careful drafting should save 
two in the actual writing. An extreme 
case which none the less is a case In point, 
is, contained In the following anecdote 
given by Mr. A. E. Davidson In his Life 
of Alexandre Dumas: 

Dumas often declared that, when once he 
had mapped out in his mind the scheme of a 
novel or a play, the work was practically ac- 
complished, since the mere writing of it pre- 
sented no difficulty, and could be performed as 
fast as the pen could travel. Someone begged 
leave to dispute this assertion, and the result 
was a wager. Dumas had at that time in his 
head the plan of the Chevalier de Maison Rouge, 
of which he had not yet written a word, and 
he now made a bet of one hundred louis with 



his sceptical friend that he would write the first 
volume of the novel in seventy-two hours (in- 
cluding the time for meals and sleep). The 
volume was to be formed by seventy-five large 
foolscap pages, each page containing forty-five 
lines and each line fifty letters. In sixty-six 
hours Dumas had done the work, — 3375 lines — 
in his fair, flowing hand, disfigured by no eras- 
ures, — and the bet was won with six hours to 

Dumas, however, was a striking excep- 
tion in being able to dispense with re- 
vision. Alternate elimination and expan- 
sion is the method by which great works of 
literature have usually reached their final 
form — and it is far easier to expand and 
cut, expand and cut again, in the mere 
rough outline than in the fully developed 
book. Don't shirk your plot construction 
— and here I am using the phrase in an 
all-embracing sense — an essay or a ser- 
mon deserves careful plotting as much as 


a novel — plot construction is a whole- 
some discipline ; and while there is not one 
chance in a hundred that you will overdo 
it, there is every chance that you will all 
the time be teaching yourself some new 
and useful trick, some clever short-cut, 
some way of knitting your whole structure 
more firmly together. It would be well 
if every young writer were to reduce to a 
ten-word limit his central idea before even 
starting to plot his story; keep those ten 
words inscribed upon a cardboard, hang- 
ing above his desk, and ask himself, with 
each incident, each character, each shift 
of scene, " To what degree does this help 
on my central idea? Is it essential, or 
only a digression? If not actually re- 
lated, has it a symbolic significance that 
justifies it structurally? In any case, is it 
the best, the very last and best thing I 
can do?" If not, then cut it out ruth- 
lessly and try again, and yet again, until 


you are sure that the best of which you are 
capable Is found. 

Of course, it Is quite easy for someone 
to object that many of the greatest masters 
of the past have not composed In this man- 
ner; that Fielding and Smollett, Dickens 
and Thackeray were notoriously loose In 
plot construction, and that Trollope him- 
self acknowledges, " I have never troubled 
myself about the construction of plots and 
am not now Insisting on thoroughness In 
a branch of work In which I myself have 
not been very thorough.'' And the ob- 
jector might go a step further and ask: 
Did Shakespeare, when he was writing 
Hamlet, Inscribe above his desk, " To be 
or not to be, that Is the question," as a re- 
minder that his theme was the tragedy of 
a vacillating nature; or similarly, when 
he wrote Othello, " A man not easily jeal- 
ous but, when roused, perplexed In the ex- 
treme"; or again for Macbeth, " Vault- 


Ing ambition that o'erleaps itself, and falls 
on the other " ? And of course the an- 
swer Is obvious enough: that the masters 
of literature are great enough to break 
the rules; that had Shakespeare constructed 
as Ibsen did, English literature would have 
been robbed of some of its noblest lines; 
and that when we speak of the craftsman- 
ship of writing we are speaking of rules 
that must be mastered before one has 
earned the right to break them. 

Remember, also, in choosing the au- 
thors who are to be your models, to exer- 
cise discrimination regarding the partic- 
ular qualities that you will copy from each 
of them. Go to Dickens and Thackeray 
for character drawing, if you choose, but 
not for plot. And similarly, remember 
that Trollope was able to say of his char- 
acters : 

There Is a gallery of them, and of all that gal- 



lery I may say that I know the tone of the voice, 
and the colour of the hair, every flame of the 
eye, and the very clothes they wear. Of each 
man I could assert whether he would have said 
these words or the other words ; of every woman, 
whether she would then have smiled or so have 
frowned. When I shall feel that this intimacy 
ceases, then I shall know that the old horse should 
be turned out to grass. 

But if you want a model of careful con- 
struction from among the early novelists, 
you can do no better than turn to Haw- 
thorne. " Hawthorne's method," says 
Andrew Lang, " is revealed in his pub- 
lished note-books. In them he jotted the 
germ of an idea, the first notion of a sin- 
gular, perhaps supernatural situation. 
Many of these he never used at all; on 
others he would dream and dream till the 
persons in the situations became characters 
and the thing was evolved into a story. 
Thus he may have invented such a prob- 


lem as this : * The effect of a great, sudden 
sin on a simple and joyous nature/ and 
thence came all the substance of The 
Marble Faun/' As a matter of fact, The 
Marble Faun Is a very wonderful example 
of close construction admirably disguised. 
It has all the effect of a vast canvas, a 
prodigality of material In character, and 
Incident, and panoramic scene; but under 
examination. It reveals little by little the 
nice balance of all its parts, the rigid 
economy of Its means, the fine art that 
has subordinated every part to a consist- 
ent development of the central Idea, a 
conservation of the unity of purpose. 

Second only In Importance to having 
a purpose Is the necessity of clothing that 
purpose In a suitable form. Some themes 
lend themselves to a variety of different 
treatments. A great war may give us both 
an epic and an opera-boufe, an Iliad and 
La Belle Helene, The sin of Intemper- 


ance jfinds expression at one time in a 
UAssommoir and at another in a Tarn 
O'Shanter, And in general the rule may- 
be laid down, that the form in which any 
central idea is to be clothed depends less 
upon the idea than upon the individual 
ability of the author. But the practical 
distinction of this is really not great. You 
may have conceived some light, frothy lit- 
tle idea, such as would make a graceful 
triolet; It makes no difference whether a 
triolet Is the biggest thing lurking in that 
idea, or whether someone else might take 
It and develop It Into something of much 
greater dignity — in either case it Is an 
error of judgment on your part to give 
that little idea the misplaced dignity of an 
elegy or a sonnet. Or perhaps you have 
hit upon a really big situation deserving 
of the broad treatment of a Hardy or a 
Meredith; if you are able to see it In that 
broad, big way be careful not to squander 


it on a short story or hammock novel, no 
matter how many other writers might, with 
more limited vision, have chosen to do the 
smaller thing. 

Just precisely what literary form is the 
best possible form in which to clothe a 
central idea is another of those many 
things that cannot be taught, because it 
IS so peculiarly personal to each writer. 
My own conviction is that it is something 
largely instinctive; that a short-story 
theme usually presents Itself to the mind 
In the first instance as a short story, a 
dramatic theme as a drama, and the mate- 
rial for a long novel as a long novel and 
nothing else. The Anglo-Saxon writer, 
however, both in England and America, 
is very largely a writer of one or at most 
two literary forms. This is in marked 
contrast to the Continental habit. In 
France and Italy it Is quite in the ordi- 
nary course of things for a young writer 


to begin with a volume of verse,* follow 
it up with collected essays, usually of liter- 
ary criticism, then a novel or two, a four- 
act play — and at that time he has reached 
a point where he feels at liberty to confine 
himself to whichever form he finds most 
congenial. A man with this sort of train- 
ing may, of course, have wasted himself 
to some extent in misplaced efforts, in at- 
tempting certain things for which he was 
not temperamentally fitted; but he seldom 
makes the mistake of trying to fit an idea 
into the wrong literary framework. It is 
the other type of craftsman, so common in 
this country; the man who starts with a 

* " Maupassant began by writing verses ; that seems 
to be the rule, the versified form being the inevitable 
one for the dawn of literature and for the budding 
writer as well. Nearly all the masters of contem- 
porary prose have begun by writing verse, even M. 
Alexandre Dumas himself. Later they have proved 
their critical taste by not repeating the experiment." — 
Rene Doumic, Essay on Maupassant. 



feed idea that he is to be a dramatist and 
nothing else, or a lyric poet and nothing 
else, or an essay writer and nothing else — 
who is all the time trying to force his ideas 
into a shape for which they were not 
meant. If, for instance, a man cannot and 
will not write anything but a sonnet; If 
he is unable to think in any other terms 
than those of a sonnet, then whenever an 
idea comes to him that is not a sonnet 
idea, he must either reject it altogether or 
else produce a sonnet that had better not 
have been written. For these reasons it 
cannot be too forcibly urged upon young 
writers to keep their minds open by the 
practice of several different forms at 
once. You are sure to be eventually a 
better dramatist for having had some 
practice In narrative fiction; and you will 
probably write a better short story if you 
have occasionally done a little literary 
criticism. There is more common sense 



than appears on the surface in the casual 
confession by Mr. A. C. Benson in his 
lightful volume From a College Window: 

The two things I have found to be of infinite 
service to myself in learning to write prose have 
been keeping a full diary and writing poetry. 

It IS interesting to remember In this con- 
nection that George Meredith once wrote: 

Writing for the stage would be a corrective of 
a too incrusted scholarly style, Into which some 
great ones fall at times. It keeps minor writers 
to a definite plan and English. 

In other words, in literature as well as 
in life there are some occasions when the 
longest way round Is the shortest way 
home, and one of them Is the art of ac- 
quiring a particular branch of literary 
form by the practice of forms that are 
radically different. 






There are few of us who have not, at 
one time or another, been drawn into the 
childish pastime of attempting to trace a 
pig with our eyes blindfolded. We us- 
ually began bravely enough by drawing 
two fairly symmetrical ears, and if the 
pencil was not quite as steady as It might 
have been, as It proceeded to delineate the 
snout, the general effect was rather credit- 
able; at least, the bystanders had not yet 
found adequate cause for merriment. But 
when It came to the legs, our sense of 
proportion weakened, wavered, slipped ut- 
terly from us; those four legs straggled 
across the paper In riotous disorder like 
the distortions of a convex mirror, the 



pencil wobbled more and more hopelessly 
and the last mad dash for the finish 
landed, as likely as not, in the middle of 
the fore leg instead of at the starting 
point, the tail curled in a fantastic cork- 
screw from the middle of the back, and 
the eye, added as an afterthought, gazed 
at us in a detached sort of way some inches 
from the rest of the drawing. All this 
may seem irrelevant to the Craftsmanship 
of Writing, but unfortunately it is not. 
*One of the commonest experiences in a 
critic's ordinary routine is to come across 
literary efforts of various form and magni- 
tude which convey the impression that they 
too have been constructed with the eyes 
blindfolded.* The mala difference is that 

♦Writers should remember Carlyle's advice: "To 
the poet, as to every other, we say, first of all. See, 
If you cannot do that, it is of no use to keep stringing 
rhymes together, jingling sensibilities against each 
other, and name yourself a foet; there is no hope for 



the general effect is more saddening than 
ludicrous. And the reason for this, of 
course, is that there is nothing especially 
discreditable to the average man or woman 
to be unable to draw a pig with their eyes 
blindfolded, while for the literary crafts- 
man to be careless and slovenly in his tech- 
nique of form is not only discreditable but 
without excuse. 

Now, having introduced this metaphor 
of the pig, let us go a step further and 
find out clearly to what extent it applies 
to the literary craftsman. There is no 
hard and fast rule regarding form, whether 
we are speaking of drawing a pig or writ- 
ing a short story; in either process there is 
ample latitude for individual expression 
— there is no such absolute uniformity re- 
quired as in minting a gold eagle or mould- 
ing a Rogers group. Your literary or ar- 
tistic pig may be fat or lean, contented or 
disgruntled, small, round and pink, or ra- 



zor-backed and black and bristling — but 
you have no right to take liberties with 
his recognised anatomical 'structure — 
draw any kind of a pig you choose, so long 
as it remains a pig. In other words, you 
have no right to profess to be working in 
a certain recognised literary form, and 
then so distort the leading characteristics 
of that form that it becomes something 
entirely different. " The confusion of 
kinds," says Henry James, *' is the inele- 
gance of letters and the stultification of 

It aoes not by any means follow that an 
author is not free to invent new literary 
forms or varieties, if he has the inventive 
power. There is no rule in art forbidding 
the unusual, the new or even the grotesque. 
There is no reason why we should not 
have, from time to time, something un- 
dreamed of in the philosophy of literary 
form, any more than there is a reason 



why the sculptor should not carve a grif- 
fin out of stone, although he never saw a 
griffin in the flesh. Otherwise we should 
have been deprived of some of the most 
interesting experiments in English litera- 
ture: Gulliver's Travels, and Pilgrim's 
Progress, the De Cover ley Papers, Alice's 
Adventures, the Jungle Books, and Red- 
coat Captain — the list could be pro- 
longed indefinitely. But any writer who 
wishes to discard the accepted forms and 
make new forms for himself would do well 
to remember what Ruskin said regarding 
the difference between the Lombard grif- 
fin and the classical griffin, in his chapter 
on the Grotesque: 

" Well, but," the reader says, " what do you 
mean by calling either of them true? There 
never were such beasts in the world as either 
of these." 

No, never; but the difference is, that the 
Lombard workman did really see a griffin in his 



imagination, and carved it from the life, meaning 
to declare to all ages that he had verily seen with 
his immortal eyes such a griffin as that; but the 
classical workman never saw a griffin at all, nor 
anything else; but put the whole thing together 
by line and rule. 

In other words, if a writer is big 
enough, inspired enough — call it what 
you will — to see with his Immortal eyes 
some new and better form, then let him 
use it fearlessly, provided that he is quite 
sure that it is a new form and not a dis- 
torted old one. For it is a much rarer 
and harder thing to produce a glorified 
griffin than a misshapen pig. 

Yet the necessity of studying the tech- 
nique of form in all its minutest de- 
tails is so little understood and so slowly 
grasped by the average beginner In 
writing that it is a temptation to in- 
sist upon its paramount importance even 
to the point of tediousness. So many 


young writers have their answer all pat: 
What, they ask, is the use of putting so 
much stress on form? The great writers 
of the past were notoriously loose and care- 
less in construction; look at the rambling, 
episodic character of Homer and Cer- 
vantes and Rabelais; and were Fielding 
and Thackeray and Dickens much better 
in their technique of plot? Of course, all 
this is perfectly true; and the chief reason 
why so many young writers — and older 
ones, too, for that matter — are slow to 
appreciate the importance of good tech- 
nique, is the conservative force of tradi- 
tion — the great masters of the past, who 
wrote before the more elaborate technique 
of to-day had been developed, did thus and 
so; and if good enough for them, why not, 
is the argument, good enough for us? No 
less a person than the Spanish novelist, 
Sefior Valdes, betrays in this regard a 
curious lack of critical acumen: The 



Latin races, he grants, are accustomed to 
give greater attention to unity of structure ; 
the Anglo-Saxons and the Slavs, on the 
contrary, prefer a greater variety of in- 
terest, a more prodigal abundance of life : 

One of the best contemporary Russian nov- 
els, War and Peace, might with very little ef- 
fort be divided In two, because it contains two 
perfectly defined actions, which are carried on 
side by side throughout the whole course of 
the book. Which of these conceptions of the 
composition of a novel Is the true one? In my 
opinion, both of them. To decide In favour 
of one of them would be to assert the Inferiority 
of the novels written according to the other — 
and that seems to me unjust. Dickens, Thack- 
eray, Gogol, Tolstoy are as excellent novelists as 
Balzac, George Sand, Flaubert and Manzoni.* 

The fallacy of Senor Valdes*s argument, 
of course, is his failure to recognise that 
while the English and Russian novelists 

* From preface to La Hermana San Sulplcio, 


whom he names are as great, if not 
greater, than the French and Italian, their 
greatness is not due to their looser method 
of construction, but in spite of it. There 
is progress in the art of writing, as well as 
in other arts, and the wise modern writer 
profits by the improved methods. The 
tales of Boccaccio are inimitable specimens 
of their kind; but now that we have the 
modern conception of what a short story 
should be, as formulated by Poe and Mau- 
passant and Kipling, it would seem scarcely 
worth while for any writer of to-day delib- 
erately to revert to the cruder form of the 
early Italian novella, Balzac's Contes Dro- 
lattques are likely to remain the last at- 
tempt of the sort to gain literary recogni- 
tion. Don Quixote is one of the three or 
four indisputably greatest books in the 
world — but that is no reason why any 
twentieth-century tyro in novel writing 
should take Cervantes for his model and 


imitate successfully all his faults of con- 
struction, while the magic that makes the 
book unique forever eludes it imitators. 

It seems inevitable that in discussing the 
technique of form the argument should 
tend constantly to revert to prose rather 
than poetry, and to the novel in preference 
to all other prose forms. And it is quite 
natural that this should be so. The ne- 
cessity of structure in verse is in a way axio- 
matic; it enters into the very definition. 
In short, in all verse, from the greatest to 
the least, there is something which may 
not unjustly be called architectural in the 
way it IS built. Indeed, the more formal 
types, like the rondeau, the ballade, the 
rondel, the sonnet, offer to the eye, as 
they lie upon the printed page, as definite 
a suggestion of a ground plan as any blue 
print of the modern draughtsman. The 
regularity of recurring rhymes, the mar- 
shalled lines of numbered syllables and 



stresses Inevitably suggest the methodical 
courses of brick and masonry, the stately 
rows of Doric columns or Gothic pinna- 
cles. Every great epic is a temple in 
words, every nursery rhyme a structure of 
toy blocks, playthings of uncomprehend- 
ing merriment. Carlyle was not the first 
writer to liken the Divine Comedy to a 
cathedral; but no one has ever worded it 
so well : 

A true inward symmetry, what we call an 
architectural harmony, reigns in it, proportion- 
ates it all ; . . . the three kingdoms, Inferno y 
Purgatorio, Paradiso, look out on one another 
like compartments of a great edifice; a great^^ 
supernatural world-cathedral piled up there, stern, 
solemn, awful; Dante's World of Souls! 

Now in prose, and especially in fiction, 
which enjoys the advantage of being the 
most elastic of all literary forms, the 
architectural element is far less in evi- 



dence, because the best technique In fic- 
tion demands the most careful framework, 
most carefully disguised. But, supposing 
that a young writer says quite frankly, " I 
recognise the truth of all you say; I be- 
lieve in the importance of the Technique 
of Form, and I want to learn and obey the 
rules of the best construction. If I try to 
write a novel, I want it to be a novel in 
the best sense, and not a string of short 
stories. If I write a short story, I want 
to feel sure that it is truly a short story 
in spirit and inherent purpose, as well as 
in outward form. But how am I to de- 
cide what particular artistic form is best 
adapted to be my medium of expression? 
What I want to write is (let us say) a 
novel ; but are my ideas big enough ? Are 
they inherently long-story ideas, or are 
they foredoomed never to be anything 
more than short stories?'* This point 
was touched upon briefly in the preceding 



chapter; but it is so extremely important 
to the individual writer, and a miscom- 
prehension of it has led so many beginners 
astray, that a certain amount of repetition 
seems justifiable, especially as it paves the 
way to another thought of some importance. 
The greatest mistake that a young 
writer can make is that of thinking of 
ideas as being in any sense a lot of square 
pegs that must not be placed in round 
holes, or vice versa. An idea is not fore- 
ordained to any exclusive appropriation 
by any one artistic form; it is not inevi- 
tably the beginning of a sonnet or of a 
four-act drama, any more than a ball of 
yarn is necessarily destined, as It comes 
from the spinning-wheel, either for an 
afghan or a pair of stockings. Ideas are 
the raw material of literature; what they 
are to be worked into, depends not upon 
the ideas themselves, but upon the indi- 
vidual author's bent of mind, the way in 


which his thoughts naturally take shape. 
We are too apt to think of a thought, a 
really big and important thought, as we 
think of a precious stone, something crys- 
tallised and unyielding, something which 
^an be cut and polished, to be sure, but 
only in accordance with its natural angles 
and lines of cleavage. We would come 
nearer the truth if we likened ideas to 
pure gold in the ingot, that may be worked 
into any shape, applied to any purpose, 
forming the standard of value in the world 
of letters, yet capable of being spread out 
to infinitesimal thinness, In order to give 
cheapness the glitter of a spurious worth. 
What Is wrought from the Ingot depends 
upon the skill and genius of the gold- 
smith; It IS not the fault of the elemental 
gold. If, instead of delicate miracles of the 
jeweller's art, It finds Itself debased to an 
electro bath for Ten-Cent Store cuff-but- 
tons I 



It follows that we can do no poorer 
service to a young writer than to per- 
suade him that an idea which he has al- 
ready seen clearly in one form, must not 
be used in that form, but for something 
quite different. We sometimes hear a 
young poet receive advice, somewhat af- 
ter this fashion : " Yes, the idea that you 
have in mind for a sonnet is a good idea 
in itself, but the trouble with it is that it 
is not a sonnet idea; it never could make 
a good sonnet ; give it up I ** It always 
seemed to me that it must take an uncom- 
mon amount of boldness to assume such a 
responsibility as that! The utmost that 
anyone has a right to say is, " That is an 
idea from which I, myself, could not make 
a good sonnet; I, individually, cannot see 
it in the sonnet form," or, perhaps, if the 
intimacy between the adviser and would- 
be poet justifies this attitude : " From 
what I know of your previous work, I can- 


not believe that you could give this par- 
ticular Idea the adequate treatment and de- 
velopment for a sonnet; give It up, not on 
account of the idea's limitations, but be- 
cause of your own." But the usual and 
safe rule Is that every writer must find out 
for himself what shape he may best give 
his Ideas — and thkt is why It is generally 
wiser, if a writer has critical friends whose 
advice he values, to get his start by him- 
self, have his first draught finished, or 
at least well advanced, before asking for 
a critical opinion. It often happens that 
an Idea which, when presented in the 
rough, seems to the critic quite hopeless, 
becomes with even a slight degree of 
working-up, not only promising, but tri- 
umphantly vindicated. Think how absurd 
it would sound to say to a goldsmith: 
" Don't try to make a ring out of that 
piece of gold wire; there Isn't a ring in that 
wire, there is nothing but a scarf-pin I" 


Yet that is precisely the sort of mislead- 
ing advice that is not infrequently given 
to story writers. Many an author has 
wasted months on a bad novel, when he 
could have used the same idea in a good 
short story; many a short story has spoiled 
an idea that might have served for a bal- 
lad or an elegy, or a musical comedy — not 
because there was any incongruity in the 
ideas themselves, but because the author 
failed to follow his natural bent. 

But, whatever form a young writer uses, 
it is his first duty to master the technique 
of that form, to familiarise himself with 
its entire history, to learn not only how the 
best authors have used that form in the 
past, but also how the modern generation 
is modifying it to-day. I am continually 
amazed at being asked by beginners, " Isn't 
it better for me to read as little as pos- 
sible of contemporary books? Am I not 
in danger of losing my originality if I fill 



my mind with the ideas of others? Is it 
not bad for my style to read any books 
except the recognised classics?" Per- 
sonally, I have little patience with such an 
attitude of mind. The man or woman 
who has so little originality or inventive 
power as to be bewildered, stunted, over- 
whelmed by contact with the thoughts of 
others, offers a rather hopeless case any- 
how; the great majority of normal human 
beings find something stimulating rather 
than deadening in wide reading; and to 
the craftsman who is really interested in 
his art it must be a very hopeless book 
indeed that does not give him something 
upon which to whet his inventive faculty. 
The very imperfections of a plot in any 
current penny-dreadful may suggest, by 
the glaring way in which an opportunity 
is missed, a new twist that might be given 
< — and so you have the starting point of a 
new and perhaps a big story. And in any 


case a writer cannot afford to be Ignorant 
of what is being done to-day in his own 
field. Such neglect Is only a few degrees / 
worse than for a lawyer to refuse to rec- 
ognise the authority of a case decided 
later than 1850, or for a physician to ig- 
nore modern methods of treating disease, 
lest he should lose the originality of his 
own methods. The comparison is not 
quite so far-fetched as perhaps at first 
sight it may seem. The fact that there 
were some brilliant surgeons half a cen- 
tury ago in no way minimises the impor- 
tance of the antiseptic methods of to-day; 
and the inclusion of Tom Jones and 
Roderick Random and Tristram Shandy 
among the English classics does not alter 
the fact that there exists to-day a tech- 
nique of fiction such as was not remotely 
dreamed of by Sterne or Smollett or 
Fielding. One of the first things for a 
beginner to learn, if he would master the 



technique of form, is to distinguish be- 
tween the writers who have already mas- 
tered it and those who have become great 
in spite of poor technique. It is the dif- 
ference between a rough diamond and a 
polished rhinestone — ^the value may lie 
wholly in the stone or wholly in the cut- 
ting. But best of all is the author who 
combines a flawless technique with the 
greatness of genius — a perfect cutting 
and a perfect stone. 

For the sake of being specific, let us 
take one or two examples: for instance, 
the case of a young writer who wishes to 
learn the best way in which to write son- 
nets. Here, as everywhere else, there is a 
certain measure of the art which cannot be 
taught. If he has not the inborn instinct 
that will tell him what thoughts are beau- 
tiful and what are not; if he has not a 
natural sense of harmony that will dis- 
tinguish between a pleasing sequence of 



sounds and a discord, it is rather futile to 
try to help him. But, granted that he pos- , 
sesses these elemental and indispensable 
qualities, the first thing to do, of course, 
is to put him in the way of knowing what 
a sonnet is. Now, the shortest and sim- 
plest — I was on the point of saying, the 
laziest — way to do this would be to pick 
out some one or two of the great English 
sonnets, Milton's sonnet on his blindness, 
or Wordsworth's sonnet to Milton, and 
say to him: " Here is your model; study 
the verse scheme and try to do something 
like it." And of course the student in 
question would be no more fitted for writ- 
ing a sonnet than a child is prepared to 
read when it has mastered only the letter a. 
What he ought to do is to learn the his- 
tory of the sonnet, to study the develop- 
ment of its form with all permissible vari- 
ations of rhyme, in Italian as well as in 
English; to know in what respect the 



Shakespearean sonnets differ from those 
of Milton, and his again from Keats or 
Rossetti. He should know what consti- 
tutes a perfectly regular sonnet and what 
are its pardonable irregularities. Then, 
and not till then, he is qualified to pass 
judgment upon a sonnet, either his own 
or those of others — and, it may be, is ca- 
pable of producing a sonnet good enough 
to be given to the world at large. 

Or let us take another and far com- 
moner case, that of the would-be writer 
whose interest lies mainly in fiction. It 
does not matter whether he prefers the 
short-story form or that of the novel; his 
training in either case will be practically 
the same. What he needs most is a pa- 
tient study of the authors who have paid 
strict attention to the technique of form: 
in English, Henry James and Mr. How- 
ells, Kipling and Hewlett, Gissing and 
George Moore are only a few whose meth- 



ods when properly understood are full of 
Illuminating suggestion. And the French 
are in this respect especially helpful, far 
more so than the Russians: Turgeneff 
himself is reported by Henry James to 
have confessed frankly in conversation 
that one fault of his own work was '' que 
cela manque d* architecture. But," he 
added, " I would rather, I think, have too 
little architecture than too much, — when 
there is danger of Its interfering with my 
measure of the truth. The French of 
course like more of it than I give, — hav- 
ing by their own genius such a hand for 
it; and Indeed one must give all one can." 
There are probably no two novelists to 
whom the architecture, the underlying and 
hidden framework of the plot, means pre- 
cisely the same thing, or who have anything 
like the same method of developing it. 
Each writer must learn by experience what 
method brings him Individually the best re- 


suits. One man may prefer to carry the 
rough outline of the plot in his head; an- 
other can do nothing without an elaborate 
scenario; a third prefers a diagram, with 
lines crossing and Intercrossing, to show the 
points at which the lives of the different 
characters Intersect. Nothing would be 
more helpful than a collection of confes- 
sions from our leading novelists as to just 
how their plots were built up, step by step. 
Here, for instance, is a curious sidelight 
from Henry James's preface to The Awk- 
ward Age^ that has already given several 
suggestive Illustrations to these articles : 

I remember that in sketching my project ( The 
Awkward Age) I drew on a sheet of paper 
. . . the neat figure of a circle consisting of 
a number of small rounds disposed at equal 
distances about a central object. The central 
object was my situation, to which the thing would 
owe its title, and the small rounds represented 
so many distinct lamps, as I liked to call them, 



the function of each of which would be to light 
with all due intensity one of its aspects. . . . 
Each of my " lamps " would be the light of a 
" single social occasion '* in the history and inter- 
course of the characters concerned, and would 
bring out to the full the latent colour of the 
scene in question, and cause it to illustrate, to 
the last drop, its bearing on my theme. 

The whole world knows Emile Zola's 
elaborate system of ** documentation," the 
long and toilsome preparation that he went 
through before writing even the first para- 
graph of his opening chapter. If, for in- 
stance, he was going to write a novel on 
the life of the theatre, so he once told that 
indefatigable Italian traveller and story 
teller, Edmondo de Amicis, he would be- 
gin by jotting down all that he could re- 
member of his own personal experience in 
regard to plays and playwrights, theatrical 
managers and actors; he would then secure 
all the books he could find that bore upon 



the subject, would consult friends regard- 
ing their experiences, carefully noting down 
all the details and anecdotes they could 
give him. Then he would secure letters 
of introduction to leading members of the 
theatrical world, spending long hours in 
the Green Room and at rehearsals, saturat- 
ing himself with the spirit and the atmos- 
phere of the stage. And out of all this, 
the plot would little by little take form, 
almost unconsciously. 

According to Zola, this method was by 
no means peculiar to himself, but was 
very much the method of Alphonse 
Daudet as well; and Daudet himself has 
told frankly of a certain little green note- 
book from whose pages came Numa Ron- 
mestan and certain other stories besides. 
But unlike Zola, Daudet admitted that he 
could not always control the details of his 
plots and that there were times when the 



story took the matter into its own hands, in 
spite of him. Speaking, for instance, of 
the criticism against the commonplace death 
from consumption of one of the characters 
in Numa Roumestan, he gives the follow- 
ing explanation: 

But why consumptive? Why that sentimental 
and romantic death, that commonplace contriv- 
ance to arouse the reader's emotion? Why, be- 
cause one has no control over his work; because, 
during its gestation, when the idea is tempting 
us and haunting us, a thousand things become 
involved in it, dragged to the surface and gath- 
ered en route, at the pleasure of the hazards of 
life, as sea-weed becomes entangled in the meshes 
of a net. When I was carrying Numa in my 
brain I was sent to take the waters at Allevard; 
and there, in the public rooms, I saw youthful 
faces, drawn, wrinkled, as if carved with a knife ; 
I heard poor, expressionless, husky voices, hoarse 
coughs, followed by the same furtive movement 
with the handkerchief or the glove, looking for 



the red spot at the corner of the lips. Of those 
pallid, impersonal ghosts, one took shape in my 
book, as if in spite of me, with the melancholy 
curriculum of the watering place and its lovely 
pastoral surroundings, and it has all remained 

It IS somewhat difficult to give general 
advice regarding the best way to study the 
technique of form in fiction. The method 
of diagramming is certainly full of sug- 
gestive surprises. I have myself gained 
some rather happy results In the way of 
discovering, where one of my lines trailed 
off Into space like a lost comet, that the 
particular character which that line repre- 
sented had little or no structural importance 
In the story. But to a good many writers 
the diagram method would be of Infinitely 
more trouble than help. To them I would 
give the more general advice, to try and 
think of their art In terms of painting; to 
think of the story they have to tell as being 


a picture that they are to put upon canvas ; 
and that, like any other picture, it must be 
subject to the ordinary laws of perspective, 
— all of which has been quite admirably 
expressed in the following paragraph by 
Trollope : 

*' But," the young novelist will say, " with so 
many pages to be filled, how shall I succeed if 
I thus confine myself? How am I to know be- 
forehand what space this story of mine will re- 
quire? . • . If I may not be discursive 
should the occasion require, how shall I complete 
my task? The painter suits the size of his can- 
vas to his subject, and must I in my art stretch 
my subject to my canvas? " This must undoubt- 
edly be done by the novelist ; and if he will learn 
his business, may be done without injury to his 
effect. He may not paint different pictures on 
the same canvas, which he will do If he allows 
himself to wander away to matters outside his 
own story; but by studying proportion in his 
work, he may teach himself so to tell his story 



that it shall naturally fall into the required 
length. Though his story should be all one, yet 
it may have many parts. Though the plot itself 
may require but few characters, it may be so en- 
larged as to find its full development in many. 
There may be subsidiary plots, v^^hich shall all 
tend to the elucidation of the main story, and 
which will take their places as part of one and 
the same work — as there may be many figures 
on a canvas which shall not to the spectator seem 
to form themselves into separate pictures. 

Now, if you cultivate the habit of think- 
ing of fiction In the terms of painting, the 
first question that you are likely to ask of 
each book that you read is : At what point 
did the artist set up his easel; from what 
angle did he see his story? Did he look 
down upon his little world from some high 
eminence with the all-seeing eye of Omnis- 
cience; or did he deliberately limit the 
range of vision to a definite angle, a single 
street or room, or only so much of life as 


falls beneath the eyes of one of his own 
characters? When the technique of fiction 
was in its infancy, these various methods 
were indiscriminately used ; but now we de- 
mand of an author first of all that he shall 
be consistent. If he professes to tell us, as 
Mr. James did, What Maisie Knew, we 
would have a perfect right to resent being 
told anything that Maisie did not know; 
if we are to see a story solely from the out- 
side point of view, — and Verga's Caval- 
leria Rusticana is probably as perfectly con- 
sistent a piece of work of that sort as was 
ever produced, being so wholly objective 
that it has the effect of a moving-picture, — 
then we might resent with equal right any 
attempt to get inside of a character's brain 
and to tell us what he is thinking of. Sec- 
ondly, having found out the author's point 
of view, we want to ask ourselves what the 
size of his canvas is: how big a story he 
has to tell and what are his dimensions in 



point of time as well as space. There are 
a hundred ways of telling any story. Don't 
make the mistake of assuming that the au- 
thor has necessarily chosen the best way. 
You are entitled to your own opinion; try 
to find out for yourself just why he began 
his story where he did, why he spread it 
over a certain range of days and of miles, 
why he had nine characters instead of 
eleven, or fifty-seven instead of forty-three, 
— in other words, when dealing with a 
modern novel by an author whose tech- 
nique is supposedly good, cultivate the 
habit of assuming that the novel contains 
nothing, not even of the most trivial char- 
acter, that was not the result of some de- 
liberate purpose, carefully calculated to 
play its part in the design of the book as a 
whole. Unfortunately, you will run across 
many things in the novels of even the best 
craftsmen that are not the result of any 
such careful planning; and you will even 



more frequently find carefully planned ef- 
fects which have failed of their purpose. 
And whenever you do run across a clear 
case of miscalculation, congratulate your- 
self upon your discovery; for you can gen- 
erally learn a more valuable and lasting 
lesson from the blunder of a better crafts- 
man than yourself than you can from a 
dozen of the same writer's successes. 

Yet all this advice is quite futile if the 
student of craftsmanship cannot bring to 
his task a certain degree of intelligence 
and plodding patience. A sort of half 
understanding of the authors you study 
becomes that dangerous thing which we 
are told is the penalty attached at all 
times to a little knowledge. Unintelli- 
gent imitation will often render grotesque 
what would otherwise have been a really 
good piece of work. A short time ago 
a manuscript came into my hands of a 
story carefully written, full of a glow of 

" [147] 


verbal colour and up to a certain point 
not without interest. It was plain that the 
writer had saturated himself with the im- 
aginative stores of the French school, 
such as Prosper Merimee's Venus Ullle 
and Gautier^s Pied de Momie. He had 
caught the trick of telling a story which 
apparently was due to supernatural 
causes, yet could, if the reader preferred, 
be explained on simple and rational 
grounds. The story was somewhat after 
this sort: there was a fantastic piece of 
jewelry from which a single gem was 
missing; the jewelry was undoubtedly of 
great antiquity and it possessed mys- 
terious properties calculated to inspire 
both curiosity and awe. The missing gem 
is recovered under curious circumstances, 
and no sooner is it replaced than the pos- 
sessor forthwith goes into a trance and 
witnesses very vividly a painful tragedy 
re-enacted from the vanished centuries. 


All this would have been very well in- 
deed but for one trifling mistake; the his- 
torical scene that is re-enacted in the vi- 
sion was (let us say) the death of Julius 
Caesar, following without variation the 
traditional account. Of course, as a mys- 
.tery story, the purpose was defeated. 
The moment the name Cssar was men- 
tioned the reader knew what to expect 
and there was no surprise held in reserve. 
By way of contrast and to show how a 
story based upon a perfectly familiar 
historical incident may be handled in or- 
der not only to justify itself but to give 
the keenest possible shock of surprise at 
the end, one has only to recall that amaz- 
ing bit of irony by Anatole France, La 
Procurateur de Judee, in which Pontius 
Pilate is talking in his old age with an- 
other Roman, indulging in reminiscences 
of his long-ago governorship in Palestine. 
Gradually, the friend brings up one mem- 


ory after another, drawing closer and 
closer to the crowning event that has 
stamped itself upon his brain, the Cruci- 
fixion. Then comes the ironic surprise 
that gives the story its peculiar twist. 
Pontius Pilate shakes his head. " I don^t 
remember," he says slowly. *' But then, 
there were so many cases brought before 
me in those years! " 





It was the Roman poet, Ovid, who once 
said, at least in substance, " It is a fact 
that some authors cannot correct. They 
compose with pleasure and with ardour; 
but they exhaust all their force. They fly 
with but one wing, when they revise their 
work; the first fire does not return." * 

What was true in Ovid's day has been 
equally true in all periods of literary pro- 
duction. There are always certain au- 
thors, eminently brilliant some of them, 
who not only cannot revise, but rather 
pride themselves on their inability to do 
so. Byron, for instance, is a striking case 

* Quoted in this form by Disraeli, Curiosities of Lit- 
erature, who goes on to cite numerous interesting cases 
of industrious revision. 



in point. He is said to have written with 
astonishing rapidity — The Corsair in ten 
days, The Bride of Ahydos in four days; 
while it was printing he added and cor- 
rected, but without recasting. To quote 
his own words : 

I told you before that I can never recast any- 
thing. I am like the tiger. If I miss the first 
spring, I go grumbling back to my jungle again ; 
but if I do it, it is crushing. 

Now, the ability to get one's thoughts 
upon paper with great rapidity is in itself 
an admirable gift. There is a freshness, 
a spontaneity, and oftentimes a crude 
strength in the first rough draft which 
must inevitably be partly sacrificed in the 
process of final polishing. There is a 
great deal of truth in Thoreau's advice: 

Write while the heat is In you. When the 
farmer burns a hole in his yoke, he carries the iron 



quickly from the fire to the wood, for every mo- 
ment it is less effectual to penetrate it. . . . 
The writer who postpones the recording of his 
thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a 
hole with. He cannot influence the minds of 
his audience. 

" Write while the heat is in you " is, so 
far as it goes, excellent advice. Pages 
written under great heat and pressure are 
not unlikely to turn out diamonds in the 
rough — for this is Nature's way of mak- 
ing diamonds. The trouble with the ad- 
vice is that it does not go half far enough ; 
it tells only half the truth; it fails to point 
out that all the fire in the world will never 
do the effective finishing, or add the final 
lustre, like a little slow and patient rub- 
bing, after- the ideas have grown cold. In 
other words, one of the most fatal mistakes 
a young writer can make is in thinking 
that writing is just a matter of inspiration ; 



that you either have the inborn talent, or 
you have not; that if you have it, you need 
only to plunge into a sort of vortex of 
creative energy, a fine sibylline frenzy — 
and your inborn talent will do the rest. 
That, of course, is arrant nonsense, and 
very disastrous nonsense, as well — be- 
cause, if you once get the idea firmly 
fixed in your mind that a masterpiece can 
spring, like Pallas Athene, perfected from 
its author's brain, then good-bye to all 
hope for that honest drudgery, that lov- 
ing patience over infinite detail, which is 
such an essential accompaniment of the 
creative gift that it almost justifies that 
threadbare paradox that genius is the art 
of taking infinite pains. 

Now this, of course, is precisely what 
genius is not, and never can be, in litera- 
ture any more than in the other arts. No 
amount of patient juggling with the con- 
tents of unabridged dictionaries will give 



birth to a great poem, if there is not the 
inspiration of a great thought back of it. 
The statement that if, according to the 
law of permutations, you toss a sufficient 
number of Greek alphabets up in the air, 
and keep on doing so for a sufficient 
number of times, they will sooner or later 
come down arranged to form the text of 
the Iliad, may be all right in higher 
mathematics, but it is not helpful to the 
Craftsmanship of Writing. But just be- 
cause technique will not produce im- 
mortal epics all by itself, there is no 
sense in leaping to the other extreme, 
and either shirking it or discarding it 
altogether. The best laid stone-ballast 
railway track in the world won*t take us 
anywhere unless we run trains upon it, but 
that is no reason for expecting our little 
intellectual railway trains to run themselves 
without any guide rails at all. Undisci- 
plined genius is an erratic, irresponsible 



thing that people may admire on occasion, 
but dare not trust, for they never know 
what it is likely to do next. As between 
two artists of equal inborn talent a wise 
man would every time give preference to 
the one who, in addition to his inborn tal^ 
ent, shows the best command of that tech' 
nical part of craftsmanship which comes 
only from persistent drilling. This, I 
take it, is the real point of that almost 
threadbare story of how Pope Benedict 
IX., wishing to have some paintings 
executed in St. Peter^s, and having heard 
of the fame of the Florentine, Giotto, 
sent for some specimen or design by 
which he might judge Giotto's work; and 
how Giotto, with a turn of his hand, 
made a perfectly symmetrical circle and 
delivered it to the messenger, saying, 
*' This is my design.'* This perfect circle 
was no evidence of an inborn talent, for 
nature does not endow any one of us at 



birth with the power of making perfect 
circles — whatever she may do for spiders 
in regard to equilateral polygons. But it 
was evidence of a trained hand, a perfect 
technique; and that is a pretty important 
matter to be assured of if you are order- 
ing work done by a genius, whether you 
happen to be Pope Benedict IX. or any- 
body else. 

The whole point of this illustration of 
Giotto's circle is, not merely that it is 
something which has to be learned, but that 
the learning costs an infinitude of prac- 
tice. It is apparently such a simple thing 
to do and yet you can keep on trying and 
trying, day after day, month after month; 
and probably never in the whole course 
of your life reach the point where you 
won't have to say, " Yes, that is pretty 
good, but I ought to do better.'* That is 
precisely the feeling that a conscientious 
craftsman ought to have in regard to his 



writing. He may or may not be satis- 
fied with the inspiration behind his work. 
For that, there Is no rule; it depends 
upon the individual case. But in regard 
to the technical side, it would be well if 
he could always feel that it would be pos- 
sible to do it just a little bit better — 
always feel that there is some one per- 
fect way of building the structure or 
rounding the sentence that elusively keeps 
just beyond his reach. 

Consequently, one of the first ideas that 
every young writer should promptly get 
into his head is that, whatever degree of 
talent he may have, there is no escape from 
a certain amount of tedious drudgery, if 
he ever expects to accomplish anything of 
real importance. It does not follow that 
the man who frankly says that he cannot 
revise his work after it is once written Is 
necessarily in the second grade of author- 
ship, any more than the man who admits 

[1 60] 


that he cannot map out his whole work in 
all its details before writing his opening 
sentence. There is no hard and fast rule 
as to the point at which the real drudgery 
of writing shall begin. Some authors have 
served their time in the ranks, as it 
were, before their first book has ever 
seen print; they have learned their craft 
pretty thoroughly by a thousand abortive 
efforts that have either never been set 
down on paper at all or else have gone 
speedily into the scrap-basket or the fur- 
nace fire. This does not mean that they 
will be relieved of the necessity of prun- 
ing and polishing; but it does mean that 
a long and faithful apprenticeship reduces 
the amount of such detail work to a mini- 
mum. Then again some writers have 
the trick of doing most of their verbal 
sand-papering in advance, turning and 
twisting each sentence a thousand times in 
their brain, before ever committing it 


to paper. That, when we stop to think 
of it, is the original, the natural way in 
which literary composition was evolved. 
The primitive sagas, the early folk tales 
were all slowly crystallised into shape, not 
only before they were reduced to writing, 
but before there was any writing into which 
to reduce them. 

But it makes no difference at what point 
an author gets in his really hard work; 
there can be no definite rules laid down for 
preparation or for revision. There is no 
magic in a second re-writing or a third, in a 
fifth or a tenth revised proof. If the first 
draft of your sentence satisfies you, a sec- 
ond writing is a waste of time. But fifty 
re-writings are none too much if the 
forty-ninth still fails to content you. 
Every writer must in this respect work 
out his own particular method. A few 
years ago the statement went the rounds 
of the literary columns that Mr. Maurice 



Hewlett made a practice of re-writing all 
of his stories no less than four times; 
that each of these drafts was made with 
all the care that he could bestow upon it 
and when finished promptly destroyed; 
that the second would contain only so 
much of the first and the third only so 
much of the second as, by its excellence 
or its striking and peculiar phrasing, 
stamped itself upon his memory. Whether 
or not he really works in that way, such a 
method would, of course, account for 
many of Mr. Hewlett's peculiarities of 
style. But it might prove extremely dis- 
astrous to another author. 

Some writers apply the Gospel of In- 
finite Pains from the first moment of 
their conception of a plot down to the 
last revision of the page proofs. Balzac 
was one of these. His erratic and la- 
boured methods of revision, as recorded 
by Theophile Gautier in his Portraits 


Contemporains, are such an interesting 
object lesson of the extent to which the 
fever for revision may be carried that it 
seems worth while to quote him here 
rather extensively : 

His method of proceeding was as follows: 
When he had long borne and lived a subject, he 
wrote, in a rapid, uneven, blotted, almost hiero- 
glyphic writing, a species of outline on several 
pages. These pages went to the printing of- 
fice, from which they were returned in placards, 
that is to say, in detached columns in the centre 
of large sheets. He read these proofs attentively, 
for they already gave to his embryo work that 
impersonal character vi^hich manuscript never 
possesses; and he applied to this first sketch the 
great critical faculty with wrhich he was gifted, 
precisely as though he were judging of another 
man's work. 

Then he began operations: approving or dis- 
approving, he maintained or corrected, but above 
all he added. . . . After some hours, the 



paper might have been taken for a drawing of 
fireworks by a child. Rockets, darting from the 
original text, exploded on all sides. Then there 
were crosses: simple crosses, crosses re-crossed, 
like those of a blazon, stars, suns, Arabic figures, 
letters, Greek, Roman or French, all imaginable 
signs, mingled with erasures. Strips of paper, 
fastened on by wafers or pins, were added to the 
insufficient margins, and were rayed with 
lines of writing, very fine to save room, and 
full themselves of erasures; for a correction 
was hardly made before that again was cor- 
rected. . . . 

The following day, the proofs came back 
. . . the bulk of course doubled. Balzac set 
to work again, always amplifying. . . . 
Often this tremendous labour ended with an in- 
tensity of attention, a clearness of perception of 
which he alone was capable. He would see that 
the thought was warped by the execution, that an 
episode predominated; that a figure which he 
meant should be secondary for the general effect 
was projecting out of its plan. Then, with one 



stroke of his pen, he bravely annihilated the result 
of four or five nights of labour. He wsls heroic 
at such times. 

Balzac, of course, was one of the co- 
]ossals, and all of his methods, whether 
right or wrong, were colossal like himself. 
The vast majority of us will never write 
a Comedie Humaine nor overspread our 
proof sheets with mad pyrotechnics of 
erasures. Nevertheless, the essence of 
Balzac's method is a sound one. You 
can follow no better plan, provided your 
mind works that way, than to get your 
whole initial thought down on paper in 
the first heat of creation; and then, after 
a day or two, re-write and amplify, and 
re-write and amplify again, building up, 
little by little, filling in the details, smooth- 
ing the rough places until your work finally 
reaches a stage that you are content to keep 
as its permanent form. Yet even then, if 
you are a convert to the Gospel of Infinite 


Pains, you will still find some changes to 
make in your proof sheets, some further 
amendment to work into your second an3 
third editions. 

But, of course, it is possible to carry 
anything too far, even such an apparently 
limitless thing as Infinite Pains. Flau- 
bert was the signal instance of this. His 
pursuit of perfection verged upon mania; 
his tireless zeal in connection with every 
detail of whatever work he had on hand for 
the moment was in the nature of a fixed 
idea. Zola, in his Romanciers Natural- 
istes, has given an admirably detailed ac- 
count of Flaubert's methods of work iri 
pursuit of " that perfection which made 
up the joy and the torment of his ex- 
istence." When he had once got a rough 
draft upon paper the " chase after docu- 
ments " began with as much method as 
possible : 

He read above all a considerable number of 



works; or rather one should say that he merely 
skimmed them, going with an instinct of which 
he was rather proud, to the one page, the one 
phrase that would be of use to him. Often a 
work of five hundred pages would give him only 
a single note which he painstakingly transcribed ; 
often also such a volume would give him nothing 
at all. Here we find an explanation of the seven 
years which he spent on an average on each one 
of his books; for he lost at least four in his pre- 
paratory readings. 

And as he read, his notes piled up, 
overflowed his portfolios, became un- 
wieldy, mountainous. To give some idea 
of his conscientiousness in gathering ma- 
terial, Zola mentions that before writing 
U Education Sentimentale he ran through 
the entire collection of Charivari, in or- 
der to saturate himself with the spirit of 
petty journalism, under Louis-Philippe; 
and that it was out of the words found 
in that collection that he created the char- 


acter of Hussonnet. At last an hour 
would come when, as Flaubert put it, he 
would feel the " need of writing " : 

When he began the work of composition he 
would first write quite rapidly a piece consisting 
of a whole episode, five or six pages at most. 
Sometimes, when the right word would not come, 
he would leave it blank. Then he would start in 
again with this same piece, and it would be a 
matter of two or three weeks, sometimes more, of 
impassioned labour over those five or six pages. 
He wanted them perfect, and I assure you that 
perfection to him was not a simple matter. He 
weighed each word, examining not only the mean- 
ing but the conformation as well. Avoidance of 
repetitions, of rhymes, of harsh sounds was merely 
the rough beginning of his task. He went so 
far as not to allow the same syllables to recur in 
a phrase; sometimes a single letter got on his 
nerves and he would search for words in which it 
did not occur; then again he sometimes had 
need of a definite number of r's to give a rolling 
effect to a sentence. 



All this is given here not as an ex- 
ample to be imitated by the young literary 
craftsman but as a sort of ultimate stand- 
ard by which to measure the extent and 
the earnestness of his own efforts. Your 
latest story, perhaps, came back this 
morning accompanied by its third rejec- 
tion slip. In writing that story did you 
take the trouble to work it over for the 
third or fourth time? Did you erase and 
rearrange the opening sentence endlessly 
until you knew all its possible variations 
by heart? Did you wake up suddenly in 
the night with a happy idea that would 
just fit into page seventeen and could not 
wait till morning? — or did you on the 
other hand, simply sit down quite com- 
fortably one day, possessed only of pen, 
ink and paper and a good working idea, 
and dash off your five thousand words at 
top speed while the heat that Thoreau 
speaks of was still in you? And, as you 


signed your name, did you say to youn 
self, " Well, I suppose some of this is a 
bit ragged, but it will have to go as it is " ? 
If the second is the case, then your col- 
lection of rejection slips deserves to multi- 
ply. You may be a genius, but you are 
not a craftsman. Better a hundred times 
the exaggeration, the hair-splittings, the 
reductio ad absurdum of Flaubert's Infi- 
nite Pains than such deliberate slovenli- 
ness. If you think that your lot is a 
hard one and that literature at best is a 
steady grind with slow results, read 
just one more paragraph on Flaubert's 
method and perhaps you will readjust your 

One Sunday morning (writes Zola) we found 
him drowsy, broken with fatigue. The day be- 
fore, in the afternoon, he had finished a page of 
Bouvard et Pecuchet, with which he felt very 
much pleased and he had gone to dine in town, 
after having copied it out on a large sheet of Hoi- 


land paper that he was accustomed to use. When 
he returned about midnight, instead of retiring at 
once, he had to give himself the pleasure of re- 
reading that page. But he became greatly dis- 
turbed, discovering that he had repeated himself 
within a space of two lines. Although there was 
no fire in his study and it was very cold, he ob- 
stinately set to work to get rid of that repetition. 
Then, finding other words which displeased him, 
he gave up the attempt to change them all and 
went to bed in despair. But once in bed, it was 
impossible to sleep; he turned and turned again, 
thinking always of those devils of words. All at 
once he hit upon a happy correction, sprang to 
the floor, relighted his candle and returned in his 
night-shirt to his study to write out the new 
phrase. After that he crawled back, shivering 
beneath the coverlets. Three times, he sprang 
up and re-lighted his candle, in order to change 
the position of a word or to alter a comma. At 
last, in desperation, dominated by the demon of 
perfection, he took his page with him, bundled 
his muffler around his ears, tucked himself in on 
all sides in his bed and until daybreak cut and 


pruned his page, covering it all over w^ith pencil 
strokes. That vi^as the way Flaubert vi^orked. 
We all have manias of this sort, but with him it 
was this sort of mania from one end of his books 
to the other. 

It is somewhat of a comfort to turn 
from a writer whose efforts were so vastly 
in excess of the bulk of his actual produc- 
tion and take up another novelist who holds 
a fairly eminent position in English litera- 
ture and who, through long years of re- 
markable average fertility, succeeded in 
making the quality of his writing keep 
steady pace with the quantity — -Anthony 
Trollope. His advice to young writers is 
not only interesting but valuable, provided 
it be taken understandingly. It has seemed 
worth while to quote from him rather often 
in these pages. Here is still another pas- 
sage that is apropos : 

Nulla dies sine linea. Let that be their motto, 


And let their work be to them as is his common 
work to the common labourer. No gigantic 
efforts will then be necessary. He need tie no 
wet towels round his brow, nor sit for thirty 
hours at his desk without moving, — as men have 
sat, or said that they have sat. More than nine- 
tenths of my literary work has been done in the 
last twenty years, and during twelve of those 
years I followed another profession. I have 
never been a slave to this work, giving due time, 
if not more than due time, to the amusements I 
have loved. But I have been constant, — and 
constancy in labour will conquer all difficulties. 
Gutta cavat lapidem non vi, sed saepe cadendo. 

Steady, plodding work: that is Trol- 
lope's panacea for success in literature. 
*' Let their work be to them as is his work 
to the common labourer," that is the one 
phrase to be treasured up and committed 
to memory. The art of writing — that is 
the part that savours of genius, the part 
for which we cannot prescribe rules, the 



part which makes laws unto Itself. But the 
craftsmanship Is a different matter. It may 
be congenial labour, but labour it must al- 
ways be, differing in kind but not In de- 
gree from that of the hewer of wood or 
the tiller of the field. The great thing is 
to make it honest labour, to be quite sure 
that we are not skimping it or doing It 
grudgingly. We must each of us find our 
own best working hours, must decide for 
ourselves whether we will sit thirty hours 
at a stretch without moving, and then do 
nothing more for a week, or whether we 
will accept the monotony of systematic 
daily effort from breakfast until luncheon, 
day in and day out, whether we feel like 
it or not. Some men can work that way, 
and some men cannot : and that is all there 
is about It; they cannot tell you why, they 
simply find that that is their individual 
case. Now, there is no virtue in one way 
more than in another ^ — ^but whatever 



method of work you follow remember al- 
ways that there Is no such thing as a royal 
road to literary achievement, that it always 
means sooner or later work, work of the 
hardest, most earnest sort, and often the 
hardest of all work where It shows the 
least. For the greatest triumph of writ- 
ing, as of other arts. Is to conceal most 
carefully those spots upon which you have 
most conscientiously practised the Gospel 
of Infinite Pains. 





We have seen in an earlier chapter that 
the first step towards good craftsmanship 
is to have a clear underlying purpose, and 
also that the resulting written work will be 
judged largely in accordance with the de- 
gree of nearness that it has attained in 
carrying that purpose out. But it is neces- 
sary to remember always that your book 
will be judged not according to the pur- 
pose as you have formulated it somewhere 
in the background of your own brain, but 
as you have expressed it in your written 
words. There is small use in having any 
underlying purpose at all until you have 
learned how to convey your meaning to 
others, — in other words, until you have 



learned the paramount importance of clear- 

Clearness is so inseparable an element of 
all good writing that many a critic and 
rhetorician has regarded it as a term almost 
synonymous with that illusive quality called 
style. Professor A. S. Hill, for instance, 
who for so many years occupied the chair 
of English at Harvard University, chose 
to divide style under three heads : to the in- 
tellectual quality of style he gave the name, 
" Clearness; " to the emotional, " Force; " 
and to the aesthetic, " Elegance." And 
many another teacher of rhetoric has sim- 
ilarly invented his own special classifica- 
tion and definition. But according to the 
ordinary and common sense understanding 
of the terms, clearness is not so much an 
element of style as it is a condition prece- 
dent to it, just as health is not beauty, but 
a condition precedent to beauty. Clear- 
ness may be that crystal transparency of 


word and phrase that belongs to finished 
art, or it may be the mere dry bones of fact 
picked clean of the last shred and frag- 
ment of adornment. For example, a wash- 
ing list or a recipe for making Dill pickles 
may be perfectly clear, but there is a mani- 
fest absurdity in speaking of either as pos- 
sessing style. But whether the dividing 
line between clearness and style is vague or 
sharply defined, there can be no question 
that if one must choose between the two 
evils it is far better to sacrifice the second 
of these qualities than the first. The 
writer who has said something definite 
and intelligible has achieved a tangible re- 
sult even though he may have said it very 
badly ; but the writer whose meaning is ob- 
scure has accomplished nothing at all, how- 
ever well balanced and harmonious his 
phrases may sound. It is well to remem- 
ber that the true function of words, like 
that of all building materials, is to be use- 


ful first and ornamental afterwards; and 
that for the greater part of what we have 
to say the simplest phrasing is the best, just 
as the really well dressed man is he whose 
clothes possess that quiet refinement which 
does not obtrude. But a scorn of flamboy- 
ant neckties and checkerboard trousers is 
no excuse for going to the opposite extreme 
of a blue flannel shirt and overalls; and 
when Stendhal in his intolerance of over 
elaboration and rhetorical flourish boasted 
that he formed his own style by daily read- 
ings of the Civil Code, he erred as badly 
on his side as the models he avoided erred 
on theirs. The best evidence that you are 
in sound bodily health is that it does not 
occur to you to think about it; and sim- 
ilarly a healthy literary style is that which 
does nothing overtly to direct our attention 
to it. 

Now it seems as though the quality of 
clearness ought to need no definition; as 



though anyone possessed of normal under- 
standing ought to grasp the fact that it sim- 
ply denotes the ability to express in words 
any particular thought that you may have 
shaped in your mind and to express it in 
such succinct and unmistakable terms that 
any reader of ordinary intelligence will re- 
ceive in his own brain a faithful image of 
that thought and be able at request to mir- 
ror it faithfully back to you in his own 
words. Yet, as a matter of fact, clearness 
is a quality that is either very much misun- 
derstood or else quite wantonly disre- 
garded. There are a large number of 
writers, and able writers too, who seem to 
think that they are quite clear enough if 
they get their thoughts down in a form 
capable of being understood by the reader 
who goes to work to extract the meaning 
with something of that energy with which 
one applies the nut-cracker to a refractory 
nut. This whole question of clearness 



has been so admirably discussed by An- 
thony TroUope in his Autobiography that 
I cannot do a greater service to young writ- 
ers than by quoting It In Its entirety: 

Any writer who h^ read even a little will 
know what is meant by the word intelligible. 
It is not sufficient that there be a meaning that 
may be hammered out of the sentence, but that 
the language should be so pellucid that the 
meaning should be rendered without an effort 
of the reader; — and not only some proposition 
of meaning, but the very sense, no more and no 
l^ss, which the writer has intended to put into 
his words. What Macaulay says should be re- 
membered by all writers : " How little the all- 
important art of making meaning pellucid is 
studied now! Hardly any popular author ex- 
cept myself thinks of it." The language used 
should be as ready and as efficient a conductor 
of the mind of the writer to the mind of the 
reader as the electric spark which passes from 
one battery to another battery. In all written 



matter the spark should carry everything; but 
in matters recondite the recipient will search to 
see that he misses nothing, and that he takes 
nothing away too much. The novelist cannot 
expect that any such search will be made. A 
young writer, who will acknowledge the truth 
of what I am saying, will often feel himself 
tempted by the difficulties of language to tell 
himself that some one little doubtful passage, 
some single collocation of words, which is not 
quite what it ought to be, will not matter. I 
know well what a stumbling-block such a pas- 
sage may be. But he should leave nothing be- 
hind him as he goes on. The habit of writing 
clearly soon comes to the writer who is a severe 
critic to himself. 

As a broad generalization, the conclud- 
ing words of the above passage may be ac- 
cepted as true enough in the case of the 
writer who has learned self-criticism and 
whose fault lies simply in a careless or 
slovenly use of English. But unfortu- 



nately there are many kinds and grades of 
obscurity ranging all the way from the ob- 
scurity of Ignorance and stupidity to the 
obscurity that comes of too much learning 
and of halr-splltting analysis, — all the way 
from an inability to think clearly down to 
an erudition with which the reader cannot 
keep pace. There is nothing to be gained 
by classifying and distinguishing, after the 
fashion of a school rhetoric, the various 
kinds of obscurity that it is possible to find 
in literature, — by dividing what is ambig- 
uous from what is vague and again what Is 
vague from what Is really obscure ; because, 
while it is possible to make such a classifi- 
cation to almost any degree of minuteness 
that you choose, all these different kinds of 
verbal turbidness go back to one or more of 
the four primal causes that stand in the 
way of clearness; and the important thing 
is to get these four causes definitely in our 



The simplest way in which to approach 
the whole question is to recognize that 
when we write a book or a magazine ar- 
ticle we are under a sort of implied ^ con- 
tract to the class of readers whom we are 
trying to reach, — that we have pledged 
ourselves to tell them something which we 
assume that they want to know. Now, in 
order to fulfil this obligation, we must 
bring about what the legal fraternity are 
fond of speaking of as " a meeting of 
minds," — and of course there can be no 
meeting of minds unless we have learned 
to write intelligibly. There is no implied 
contract to write with any specified degree 
of form and elegance, any more than there 
is any agreement on the part of the express 
company which delivers the book or mag- 
azine to bring it in an automobile or a 
coach-and-four. The express company 
simply agrees to deliver the goods; and 
when we write, we agree, first of all, to 



deliver the ideas, and if we are obscure we 
have not delivered them. 

Now in order that the minds of author 
and reader shall meet, there are four con- 
ditions requisite : first, that the author shall 
know what he is trying to say ; second, that 
he shall be able to say it In the simplest 
terms; third, that his language shall be 
adapted to the requirement of his readers ; 
fourth, that his thoughts shall not be be- 
yond their range of comprehension. Per- 
haps you have been criticised for your want 
of clearness and you come to me for help. 
The first thing to find out is which of the 
above four requisites is your stumbling- 
block. Of course, if the trouble comes 
from the first, an inability to think clearly; 
If your thoughts are a muddle, if you are 
too lazy to straighten them out, there is no 
use in talking to you about how to write 
clearly. There Is no use In expecting clear- 
ness from a slough; and the more accu- 


rately you succeed in mirroring back your 
own mental attitude the more hopelessly 
turbid what you write Is bound to be. The 
first thing to do Is to try to guide your 
thoughts Into a straight channel and get 
them gradually Into the habit of flowing 
deep and clear, — somewhat after the fash- 
Ion that marshlands are redeemed by a sys- 
tem of irrigation ditches. Your trouble 
may be simply Inexperience, or laziness ; or 
again it may be a constitutional inability to 
think logically, a fundamental lack of one 
vital element of the Inborn talent. 

But let us assume that you have learned 
to think clearly. The next step is to learn 
to write as clearly as you think. If your 
stumbling-block lies at this point, there is 
hope for you. If you know what you want 
to say and yet manage to tangle up your 
thoughts in a snarl of words, that is sheer 
bad writing and there Is no excuse for It. 
No one who can think straight has any 



business to write badly. There is no ne- 
cessity for it, because it is the easiest of all 
errors for which to obtain outside help. 
It is a simple question of fact whether a 
given paragraph does or does not convey 
the meaning you want it to when read by 
the casual reader of average intelligence. 
It is not a matter of expert judgment; it in- 
volves no canon of art any more than the 
question whether a landscape painter's pic- 
ture of a Holstein cow looks like a cow or a 
black and white sign-post. If a country- 
bred child, looking at that cow, calls it a 
sign-post, all the art critics in the world 
cannot free that painter from the reproach 
of obscurity. So, if you are in doubt 
whether or not you write clearly you need 
not apply to a professional critic. You 
can always find someone near at hand to 
help you, some patient, long-suffering mem- 
ber of your immediate family circle, and 


preferably someone who Is not literary, — 
someone who more nearly represents the 
so-called " general public." Read your 
paragraphs to him and then ask him, 
" What does this mean to you? What 
have I tried to say? " If your amateur 
critic is dubious, If he arrives at a wrong 
Idea, or catches the right one only after an 
obvious effort, then what you have written 
Is badly done and must be written over. 
Now of course he cannot tell you just why 
it Is badly done, or what particular words 
and phrases are misleading, or what would 
be the simplest twist by which to remedy 
them. He simply throws the burden back 
on you where It belongs; you will have to 
grope for the remedy; and a little groping, 
a little more hard work will not hurt you. 
What your friend has done Is simply to 
serve a purpose analogous to that of re- 
translation In the case of documents such 



as patent-right papers or international 
treaties, where the first translator turns the 
original from English into French, and a 
second translator reconverts it into Eng- 
lish, — and if the last version differs from 
the original, the translation must be all 
done over. 

But besides the practical method of ex- 
perimenting with your writings on your 
friends, there are a few simple principles 
to keep in mind that will often save you 
from stumbling. Do not let rules of rhe- 
toric and style stand in the way of clear- 
ness; cheerfully break any one of them 
rather than be obscure. It may be villain- 
ously bad style to allow the same word to 
recur half a dozen times upon a page ; but 
it would be better to repeat that word half 
a dozen times within a single line rather 
than to lack clearness. Professor Barrett 
Wendell offers a case in point when he 
writes : 



Clearness I may best define as the distinguish- 
ing quality of a style that cannot be misunder- 
stood. To be thoroughly clear, it is not enough 
that style express the writer's meaning; style 
must so express this meaning that no rational 
reader can have any doubt as to what the mean- 
ing is. To come as near clearness as I could, for 
example, I deliberately avoided pronouns in that 
last sentence, repeating style and meaning with a 
clumsiness defensible only on the score of lucidity. 

And Macaulay, discussing the use of the 
French word, ahhe, in place of the English, 
abbot, expresses the same rule even more 
forcibly : 

We do not like to see French words introduced 
into English composition: but, after all, the first 
law of writing, that law to which all other laws 
are subordinate, is this, that the words employed 
shall be such as convey to the reader the meaning 
of the writer. Now an abbot is the head of a 
religious house; an abbe is quite a different sort 
of person. It is better undoubtedly to use an 
English word than a French word ; but it is bet- 



ter to use a French word than to misuse an Eng- 
lish word. 

And In this connection we must not for- 
get the words of the genial Autocrat of the 
Breakfast Table: " The divinity student 
looked as if he would like to question my 
Latin. No sir, I said, — you need not 
trouble yourself. There Is a higher law 
in grammar not to be put down by Andrew 
and Stoddard." 

If you would be clear cultivate simplicity 
and brevity. But remember that brevity 
is not always synonymous with the smallest 
possible number of words. As Edgar 
Allan Poe once wisely wrote : " The most 
truly concise style is that which most rap- 
idly transmits the sense. . . . Those 
are mad who admire brevity which squan- 
ders our time for the purpose of economiz- 
ing our printing-ink and paper.*' Never 
hesitate to use as many words as are re- 


quired to convey your meaning, your whole 
meaning and nothing but your meaning, be- 
yond the shadow of a doubt. A rather 
good way to acquire a simple style is to try 
to write more in the manner of ordinary 
conversation. And the reason for this 
may be readily understood by analogy with 
a simple rule for fencing, laid down in one 
of Marion Crawford's Italian novels, by 
his memorable duelist, the melancholy 
Spicca. We are accustomed, Spicca ex- 
iplained, from early childhood, to point at 
things with our index finger; indeed, 
through immemorial generations it has be- 
come a sort of inborn instinct. We have 
no need to close one eye and carefully 
sight along the finger: we point with an 
accuracy that is almost incredible. But 
it does not come naturally to us to 
point with a stick or a sword; and 
that is why Spicca acquired his wonderful 
dexterity by simply laying his index finger 



along the blade of his weapon and pointing 
with that. In like manner, we have all 
been accustomed from childhood to point, 
as it were, with spoken words; and this 
we do with a fair degree of accuracy, for 
otherwise we should frequently fail to ob- 
tain what we want. But we have not been 
accustomed from childhood to point with 
written words; so it is at least an experi- 
ment worth trying to lay the index finger 
of ordinary conversation along the written 
line and see if this does not improve the 
accuracy of our aim. 

Some reader is almost certain to raise 
the objection that the result of such an ex- 
periment will be an excess of colloquialism. 
But there Is no foundation for any such 
fear. It would be impossible by any means 
short of a phonograph to emulate the care- 
lessness, the redundancy, the elisions and 
slurrings of even rather careful conversa- 
tion. In fiction where a trained and ob- 



servant author deliberately tries his best to 
make the conversation of his characters 
quite like that of real life, he almost invar- 
iably errs on the side of artificiality, al- 
ways makes them speak a little more care- 
fully than they really do. And what holds 
true of conversation of course applies with 
double strength to narrative description or 
critical analysis. But the effect of the col- 
loquial tone while never quite reaching the 
level of actual conversation does tend to 
make the general tone of serious reading 
lighter and more inviting. " The writ- 
ing," says Miss Edgeworth, " which has 
least the appearance of literary manufac- 
ture almost always pleases me the best;" 
while St. Beuve is still more outspoken: 
*' To accustom oneself," he says, " to write 
as one speaks and as one thinks, is that not 
already a long step towards accustoming 
oneself to think wisely? " 

One method which I personally have 



found to work well, both in my own case 
and in that of other writers of my acquaint- 
ance, is to thresh out a difficult episode or 
problem in conversation, talking the whole 
thing over, sometimes with several people 
in succession, and thus gradually clarifying 
the underlying thought and crystallising the 
form of its expression. It often happens 
that some phrase or expression which has 
baffled and eluded us for days in the pri- 
vacy of our study suddenly flashes into defi- 
nite shape in the heat of a discussion; or 
the one tantalising word that a phrase 
lacked to clinch the meaning beyond ques- 
tion leaps to the tip of the speaker's tongue 
when it had persistently refused to come at 
the call of the pen. And after all is not 
this a perfectly natural and easily under- 
stood consequence of the way in which the 
whole art of literary composition must have 
developed? Authorship antedates by un- 
measured centuries the discovery of letters 



and the art of writing. The Inherited 
habit of composition in the form of oral 
verse and prose is vastly older than our 
modern practice of secluding ourselves and 
scratching down rows of little black sym- 
bols on a white expanse of paper, or still 
more incongruously tapping celluloid keys 
with the tips of our fingers. The whole 
advantage of the conversational method, 
however, has nowhere been more delight- 
fully expressed than by Oliver Wendell 
Holmes, through the lips of the Auto- 
crat : 

I rough out my thoughts in talk, as an artist 
models in clay. Spoken language is so plastic, — 
you can pat or coax, and spread and shave, and 
rub out and fill up, and stick on so easily, when 
you work that soft material, that there is noth- 
ing like It for modeling. Out of It come the 
shapes which you turn into marble or bronze in 
your immortal books, if you happen to write 



But it does no good to think and to 
write clearly, unless you write in a language 
intelligible to the class of readers whom 
you are trying to reach. The most crys- 
talline prose of the clearest French thinkers 
remains meaningless to the reader possessed 
of only a smattering of Ollendorf. As 
our familiarity with a foreign tongue pro- 
gresses, the very last stage of proficiency is 
that complete and instantaneous compre- 
hension, as the eye glances down the printed 
page, with no sense of effort, no conscious- 
ness of an intervening veil. In a minor 
degree, we all know how irksome even a 
very clever dialect story may become; the 
page is studded over with words and 
phrases that convey, first of all, a sense of 
strangeness. An account of a horse-race 
or a prize-fight, in the sporting columns of 
our daily papers may be admirably lucid to 
the readers for whom it is intended ; but to 
many of us it speaks in an unknown tongue. 


Professor Barrett Wendell, in his chapter 
on Clearness, already referred to, gives a 
rather amusing example drawn from foot- 
ball parlance. Centre-rush and half-back, 
and a score of similar words, he admits, 
are regularly constructed compounds 
formed from perfectly familiar English 
words and yet to him devoid of any definite 
meaning. But, he goes on to say, he has 
been informed and he believes that there 
are students in his own lecture courses to 
whom these same words have a real signifi- 
cance. Similarly, a treatise on some spe- 
cial branch of physics or botany or civil 
engineering may be couched in the clearest 
possible terms and yet convey no meaning 
at all to the reader unversed In those 
sciences. For instance, I open quite at 
random the fourth volume of a recent Ref- 
erence Handbook of the Medical Science 
and I learn : 

Double hemiplegia is synonymous with cere- 


bral paraplegia, both indicating a paraplegia of 
intracranial origin, involving the cerebral motor- 

A peripheral paraplegia may be produced by a 
multiple neuritis involving the peripheral nerves 
of both lower extremities in such a symmetrical 
manner as closely to resemble spinal-cord lesions. 

I am quite prepared to believe that there 
is nothing intricate in the thought that lies 
concealed behind this barrier of technical 
vocabulary; I simply realise that I am not 
one of the readers for whom it was in- 
tended. But for me It might just as well 
be the " washing list In Babylonian cunei- 
form " of which we are told by Gilbert and 
Sullivan's Modern Major General. 

If you are writing upon a technical sub- 
ject for a special public, you must use a 
special vocabulary. If you are the sport- 
ing editor on a dally paper, you must write 
of football In football jargon; but on the 
other hand, if you are discussing the edu- 


cational value of football In a pedagogical 
magazine, you will use a different and sim- 
pler terminology. And In each case what 
you write may be quite clear to the audience 
for whom you intend it. The only thing 
to guard against is the chance of making a 
mistake In your audience, the danger of at- 
tributing to them a special knowledge 
which they do not possess. For that rea- 
son, it is a good plan to underrate rather 
than overrate the average intelligence of 
your readers. Any physician can under- 
stand what has happened if you say that a 
man has broken the bones of his forearm, 
but readers who are not physicians may 
have to stop and think if you write that he 
has suffered a fracture of both radius and 

And in the fourth place, your vocabulary 

may be of the simplest and yet your work 

may convey to a large majority of readers 

a sense of Inpenetrable density. There 



are, for instance, some branches of 
higher mathematics in which a person 
with a fair average knowledge of algebra 
and geometry will encounter no terms or 
symbols that are strange to his eye ; and yet 
the meaning of what he reads will leave his 
mind absolutely blank. The difficulty in 
this case lies outside of any question of 
craftsmanship; it is inherent in the subject 
matter itself. When you come across a 
book or article of this type you have to 
recognize that it Is not intended for you, or 
at least that you are not yet ripe for It. 
The novels of Mr. Henry James are one 
of the best possible instances of* this type 
of book. Mr. James has mannerisms, 
many of them; he has a curious, and to 
some readers an exasperatingly confusing 
way of introducing all his modifiers, his 
provisos and saving clauses parenthetically 
before reaching the conclusion of his main 
sentence. But all of these things put to- 


gether would not account for the difficulty 
that many people find in reading Henry 
James. The real secret of his obscurity 
lies much deeper. It is because he is at- 
tempting to pursue his analysis of the hu- 
man heart and soul to an unattainable 
point; to differentiate motives with a hair- 
splitting minuteness. His books are a 
form of experimental psychology too intri- 
cate and erudite ever to be expressed with 
perfect clearness. And when we encounter 
this sort of obscurity we must recognise 
that it is something which is inherent in the 
subject matter itself; in other words, that 
the book is one of limited appeal to a spe- 
cially chosen audience. 





There is, I think, a good deal of unneces- 
sary heartburn experienced by young writ- 
ers regarding the question whether or not 
they are beginning to form a style. It in- 
dicates a hypochondriacal condition of 
mind akin to the familiar tendency of so 
many young medical students to believe 
that they are suffering from various purely 
imaginary diseases. A sound mind in a 
sound body is too busy in performing the 
numerous activities belonging to each day's 
work to stop to count the heart-beats or the 
rate of respiration. Any young writer, 
possessed of something really worth say- 
ing, and a certain driving energy that 


makes him bent upon saying it in the clear- 
est and most forceful way that he possibly 
can, ought to be too intent upon the task 
at hand to be worrying about whether he is 
forming a style, — whether, in other words, 
his brave beginnings of to-day are corner- 
stones in the arch of future fame. 

Style is the aroma of literature, compar- 
able to the bouquet of old wine. You can- 
not age a new vintage over night by any 
artificial process. No writer, by taking 
thought, can add a cubit to his height as 
a stylist. It is a matter of growth, and 
slow ripening. We have seen that what 
every young writer should first strive to 
acquire is a clear-cut idea of what he Is 
trying to accomplish; that, secondly, he 
should aim at a technical skill which will 
enable him to build the framework of his 
creations, whatever their form may be, 
solidly and according to the proportions 
demanded by good art; and thirdly, that 


he must cultivate that infinite patience 
which will strive to make all parts and all 
aspects of his work tend toward a unity of 
effect in subject and structure and lan- 
guage. And when a writer has learned 
thoroughly to do these things, he need no 
longer worry about style, for style is noth- 
ing else than the ability to express one's 
thoughts in the best possible way. 
" Style," says James Russell Lowell, " is 
the establishment of a perfect mutual un- 
derstanding between the worker and his 
material." And Walter Pater expresses 
very nearly the same thought in somewhat 
different terms when he writes: 

To give the phrase, the sentence, the struc- 
tural member, the entire composition, song or 
essay, a similar unity with its subject and with 
itself: — style is in the right way when it tends 
toward that. 

The ability to express one's thoughts 



in the best possible way, — that is a rather 
bigger contract than at first appears. Not 
merely to express one's thoughts in the 
clearest possible way, or the most forcible, 
or the most florid, or the most faultlessly 
grammatical way. It means a great deal 
more than any one of these, or all of them 
taken together. It means the nicest pos- 
sible compromise between clearness, let us 
say, on the one hand, and metaphor on the 
other ; or between the realism of colloquial^ 
speech, and the dignity of narrative verse ; 
or between the special effects of contrast 
and a general effect of uniformity. In its 
widest definition, there is nothing that can 
be said or written in any language under 
the sun that has not its special ideal of 
style, — some one form most appropriate 
to it : and to some degree the ability to at- 
tain approximately this desired norm is an 
element of the Inborn Talent; — just as 
marksmanship of any kind is partly a mat- 


ter of practice and partly also a matter 
of natural aptitude. 

If you examine in succession a series of 
definitions of style, taken at random from 
various authorities, you will find the di- 
vergence between them rather confusing. 
The more you read, the more confused 
you are likely to become. The trouble, of 
course, is a lack of agreement on the part 
of the authorities regarding the nature and 
extent of the quality which they are trying 
to define. One writer, for instance, as- 
sumes that style is a combination of clear- 
ness, force and elegance; another looks 
upon style as a blending of a certain ab- 
stract perfection of writing with the per- 
sonal element, which at best Is manner and 
at worst is mannerism, while still a third 
considers style as something apart from the 
personal equation, — a sort of ideal goal 
towards which we press, but which we 
never attain. The same discrepancy is 



noticeable in the use of the word, style, in 
other connections, — take it, for instance, 
in the matter of dress. Now clearness of 
purpose in dress involves the intent of 
clothing the body and keeping it warm ; and 
in this elemental sense one hears people 
speak of the style of clothes worn by peas- 
ants, or artisans, or savage tribes. A cer- 
tain proportion of people, on the other 
hand, think of style in dress as a sort of 
self-advertisement, a matter of force and 
emphasis, a question of flamboyance and 
the dernier cri. And there are still others 
who, with a finer conservatism, understand 
style to be that rare art in dress which ef- 
fects a perfect compromise between the 
prevailing fashion and the personality, 
and which unerringly chooses, in color and 
in form, the garment best designed to suit, 
most completely and at the same time most 
unobtrusively the individual need. 

Now there is no logic in looking upon 



any one of these definitions of style as be- 
ing right and the rest of them all wrong. 
The one thing needful to know Is which 
view any particular critic holds, for then 
any apparent contradiction disappears. I 
am inclined to think, however, for the pur- 
pose of good craftsmanship, that the most 
helpful view to hold is the third of those 
given above : namely, that^tyle is an ideal 
goalj towards which we struggle, but for- 
ever unattainable. Try to think of style 
in literature somewhat as you think of the 
copper-plate line of Spencerian penman- 
ship at the top of the page in a copy-book, 
— as the model towards which the pupil 
Is faithfully striving, but which it would be 
undesirable for him to attain with complete 
fidelity. Without some such model to fol- 
low, no one ever acquires a good hand- 
writing; but, on the other hand, no one 
with any sort of individuality wants to 
write like a copy-book. Think how char- 



acter in handwriting strengthens and 
deepens with the passing years, — and it 
will do this quite regardless of whether we 
started with a good or bad model at the 
top of our page. But what a gulf there is 
between the handwriting that is clear, and 
artistic and individual, and that which has 
individuality and nothing else! And to 
a far greater extent do we feel the differ- 
ence between the writer who has style and 
individuality, and him who has individu- 
ality without style. 

My advice, then, to the beginner in writ- 
ing is : do not worry too much about your 
style : do not be all the time counting your 
literary pulse. Try to write as simply and 
as clearly as you can and without self-con- 
sciousness. In learning the rudiments of 
your art you are like the novice in archery 
learning to hit a target. Concentrate your- 
self upon the task of making your verbal 
shafts reach their mark. If you do this 



faithfully, ease and grace should follow 
in their own due time. 

Do not assume, however, that if you are 
faithful, you will acquire one of the few 
masterly styles in literature. It is given 
to the very few to attain this. Be satis- 
fied if you succeed in keeping near enough 
to your copper-plate model so that your 
mannerisms will be overlooked, or if you 
succeed in say anything of such impor- 
tance that your readers tl)ink more of what 
you say than how you say it. Wine, as 
said above, acquires bouquet only in the 
course of years; but no number of years 
can ever give bouquet to a poor vintage. 
Nevertheless a good many attempts have 
been made, and with some degree of ap- 
parent success, to age, a literary style. 
Certain writers have deliberately set them- 
selves, as part of their apprenticeship, the 
task of practicing the mannerisms of a 
few recognized masters of English prose. 


Stevenson is a conspicuous example of this 
practice, and the quality of his prose is 
admittedly a result of such self-training. 
In his essay, " A College Magazine," he 
has himself outlined his method as fol- 

Whenever I read a book or a passage that par- 
ticularly pleased me, in which a thing was said 
or an effect rendered with propriety, in which 
there was either some conspicuous force or some 
happy distinction in the style, I must sit down 
at once and set myself to ape that quality. . . . 
I thus played the sedulous ape to Hazlitt, to 
Lamb, to Wordsworth, to Sir Thomas Browne, 
to Defoe, to Hawthorne, to Montaigne, to Bau- 
delaire, and to Obermann. . . . That, like 
it or not, is the way to learn to write. 

Yet, where this method succeeds with 
one man out of ten, it is quite likely to do 
more harm than good to the nine others, 
making them mere copyists, — like a young 
painter who spends his days reproducing 



a Raphael or a Rubens, instead of remain- 
ing under the open sky, learning to express 
his own thoughts In his own way. Some 
teachers, Indeed, question whether any 
real benefit accrues from conscious imita- 
tion of another man's style. Professor A. 
S. Hill has put himself on record In the fol- 
lowing emphatic manner: 

In a great writer the style is the man, — the 
man as made by his ancestors, his education, his 
career, his circumstances, and his genius. 

It IS idle, then, to attempt to secure a good 
style by imitating this or that writer ; for the best 
part of a good style is incommunicable. An imi- 
tator may, if he applies himself closely to the task, 
catch mannerisms and reproduce defects, and per- 
haps superficial merits; but most valuable quali- 
ties, those that have their root in character, he 
will miss altogether, except in so far as his own 
personality resembles that of his model. 

Of course, between these two extremes; 
the belief, on the one hand, that conscious 


imitation is the only way to learn to write ; 
and on the other, that it is no way at all 
to learn, the truth, as usual lies some- 
where midway. Yet it is worth noting 
that even Stevenson has not escaped re- 
proach. Mr. H. D. Traill, for instance, 
complains that his style * 'suffers somewhat 
from its evidences of too conscious art"; 
Henry James says, in friendly criticism 
that his style "has nothing accidental or 
diffident; it is eminently conscious of its 
responsibilities and meets them with a kind 
of gallantry, — as if language were a 
pretty woman, and a person who proposed 
to handle it had, of necessity, to be some- 
thing of a Don Juan." And Professor 
Saintsbury is even more emphatic: 

Adopting to the full, and something more than 
the full, the modern doctrine of the all-impor- 
tance of art, of manner, of style in literature, 
Mr. Stevenson early made the most elaborate 
studies in imitative composition. There is no 


doubt that he at last succeeded in acquiring a 
style which was quite his own; but it was com- 
plained, and with justice, that even to the last 
he never obtained complete ease in this style; 
its mannerism was not only excessive, but bore, 
as even excessive mannerism by no means always 
does, the marks of distinct and obvious efFort. 

Now It Is quite likely that In reading 
Stevenson you are not conscious of this 
''distinct and obvious effort" of which 
Professor Salntsbury speaks ; personally, I 
always am, — although that does not pre- 
vent me from appreciating his worth In 
literature. But the fact strengthens me In 
the conviction that I am right In saying 
that to ask oneself continually, "Am I ac- 
quiring a style?" Is apt to bring one little 
profit. It Is like a novice In painting simi- 
larly asking, "Am I learning to mix col- 
ours?" A painter does not need to dis- 
tress himself about the beauty and har- 
mony of all the colours that he may sooner 


or later be called upon to mix, — the im- 
portant thing is to do the best he can to 
obtain the particular colour that he needs 
for the moment. " Colour is a gift," says 
Dick Heldar to Maisie, in The Light that 
Failed, " Put it aside and think no more 
about it." Similarly, although the paral- 
lel is not wholly true, a beginner will cer- 
tainly do himself no great harm by assum- 
ing that in the craft of writing, style is a 
gift that may for the time be put aside and 
forgotten. Be sure that for the beginner 
the least style is the best style. Do not 
polish excessively; and when you do polish, 
be sure that you have something that is 
worthy of polishing. It is well to put a 
lustre on solid mahogany; but it is foolish 
to expend energy and good wax upon soft 

Of course, if you want to go somewhat 
deeply into the whole question, you might 


begin by reading what various recognised 
stylists have said upon the subject; you 
might make yourself familiar with De 
Quincey's Essay on Style and Pater's; and 
what Lowell has to say, and Stevenson too 
and half a dozen more besides to whom 
they will readily guide you. And the 
chances are that after a few hours, or days, 
of diligent reading you will come away with 
a considerable sense of discouragement 
and confusion ; because, while they all 
fairly agree that style is a question of fit- 
ting the method to the material; and that 
there is not one style but there are many 
styles, just as there may be many forms of 
dress to suit different occupations; yet af- 
ter all they do not lay down rules that are 
really helpful. Some comfort is to be 
gained out of Pater, if read understand- 
ingly, for he has a broad sanity of outlook 
that recognises merit in a great diversity 


of methods. Here, for instance, is a para- 
graph which embodies the essence of all 
he has to say on this subject and is well 
worth pondering upon: 

In the highest, as in the lowest literature, the 
one indispensable beauty is, after all, truth: — 
truth to bare facts in the latter, as to some per- 
sonal sense of fact; diverted somewhat from 
men's ordinary sense of it, in the former: truth 
there as accuracy, truth here as expression, that 
finest and most intimate form of truth, the 
vraie verite. And what an eclectic principle this 
really is! Employing for its one sole purpose — 
that absolute accordance of expression to idea — 
all other literary beauties and excellencies what- 
ever : how many kinds of style it covers, explains, 
justifies and, at the same time, safeguards! 
Scott's facility, Flaubert's deeply pondered evoca- 
tion of " the phrase '* are equally good art. Say 
what you have to say, what you have a will to 
say, in the simplest, the most direct and exact 
manner possible, with no surplusage : there is the 


justification of the sentence so fortunately born, 
"entire, smooth and round," that it needs no 
punctuation, and also (that is the point!) of the 
most elaborate period, if it be right in its elabora- 
tion. Here is the office of ornament; here also 
the purpose of restraint in ornament. . . . 
The seeming baldness of Le Rouge et le Noir is 
nothing in itself; the wild ornament of Les 
Miserables is nothing in itself; and the restraint 
of Flaubert, amid a real natural opulence, only 
redoubled beauty, — the phrase so large and so 
precise at the same time, hard as bronze, in serv- 
ice to the more perfect adaptation of words to 
their matter. 

Literature, by finding its specific excellence in 
the absolute correspondence of the term to- its 
import, will be but fulfilling the condition of all 
artistic quality in things everywhere, of all good 

it IS Pater who says of the author of 
Madame B ovary, "If all high things have 
their martyrs, Gustave Flaubert might per- 



haps rank as the martyr of literary style " ; 
and In support of this opinion he proceeds 
to quote the following summary of Flau- 
bert's literary creed: 

Possessed of an absolute belief that there ex- 
ists but one way of expressing one thing, one 
word to call it by, one adjective to qualify, one 
verb to animate it, he gave himself to super- 
human labour for the discovery, in every phrase, 
of that word, that verb, that epithet. In this 
way, he believed in some mysterious harmony of 
expression, and when a true word seemed to him 
to lack euphony, still went on seeking another, 
with invincible pains, certain that he had not yet 
got hold of the word. ... A thousand pre- 
occupations would beset him at the same moment, 
always with this desperate certitude fixed in his 
spirit: Amongst all the expressions in the world, 
all forms and turns of expression, there is but 
one — one form, one mode, — to express what I 
want to say. 

Now, theoretically Flaubert is right; 


there are no perfectly equivalent synonyms 
either of words or phrases, — and even the 
same phrase will take on shades of mean- 
ing when spoken by different lips. When- 
ever you utter a sentence you have ex- 
pressed a thought in the only way in which 
that particular thought down to the last 
hair-splitting shade of meaning can be ex- 
pressed. Change a syllable and you 
change the meaning — that was Flaubert's 
doctrine and it meant torture to him. And 
the trouble, of course, was that he tried to 
practise what can never be more than 
theoretical. It would be a great comfort 
to believe, with Emerson, that " There Is 
no choice of words for him who clearly 
sees the truth; that provides him with the 
best word " ; but to most of us such clear- 
ness of vision Is denied. If a writer could 
really know down to the ultimate shade of 
thought exactly what he wanted to say 
and exactly the tone in which he wanted 


to say it, and if his brain was so equipped 
that it had at command the entire contents 
of the unabridged dictionary then, theo- 
retically, the one inevitable word-sequence 
ought forthwith to present itself to him. 
In practice, however, there are a hundred 
different ways that occur to us for saying 
even some quite simple thing, each of them 
not precisely what we want to say, but rep- 
resenting a compromise, a sacrifice, on the 
side of meaning, or of euphony, or of 
rhythm. The one perfect way is the dream 
of a visionary, a forever unattainable ideal. 
We may come more or less near to it in 
proportion to our ten talents or our two 
talents or our one, but it always eludes us. 
And the finer the artist, the more he is apt 
to suffer because he sees so clearly how far 
short he has fallen. Style, then, practi- 
cally means the ability to choose the words 
that will give us just the right meaning, 
just the right harmony, just the right ca- 


dence. And if this is to be done worthily 
we must attain our results so far as possi- 
ble without straying afield for queer, 
exotic words and phrases. It is, says 
Lowell, "the secondary intellect which 
asks for excitement in expression, and 
stimulates itself into mannerism, which is 
the wilful obtrusion of self, as style is its 
unconscious abnegation." And Maupas- 
sant, in his well-known preface to Pierre 
et Jean, wrote in similar strain: 

There is no need of the bizarre, complicated, 
extensive and Chinese vocabulary that they force 
upon us to-day under the name of artistic writ- 
ing to catch all the shades of thought; but it is 
necessary to discern with extreme lucidity all the 
modifications in the value of a word according 
to the place it occupies. Let us have fewer 
nouns, verbs and adjectives with meanings almost 
incomprehensible, but let us bave more different 

In regard to vocabulary no better rule 


has been formulated down to the present 
day than that old dictum of Quintilllan: 
" Use only the newest of the old and the 
oldest of the new." We may, of course, 
assume In theory that no word is so obso- 
lete that it may not under some special 
conditions be revived; no slang so recent 
as to be wholly barred out of print. D'An- 
nunzio, the recognised master of modern 
Italian style, has ransacked the early 
writers for so many out-of-the-way words 
that some of his later prose can be more 
easily read by a college bred Anglo-Saxon 
with a fair knowledge of the language 
than by an equally intelligent Italian who 
does not happen to be well grounded in 
Latin and Greek. And in the opposite 
scale, we have Mr. Kipling, who fearlessly 
enriches our language with such words as 
he thinks It needs. Nevertheless, the safe 
norm lies in the simple, every-day vocabu- 
lary. A good craftsman can accomplish 


wonderful things with a limited number 
of tools: a certain eminent surgeon has 
been known to perform successfully an ope- 
ration for appendicitis with no other instru- 
ment than a simple pair of scissors. One 
trouble with many of us is that we over- 
work just a few words and combinations of 
words, and neglect other equally good com- 
binations; we have the vice of the hack- 
neyed phrase. A' well-known American 
critic once said in conversation that he 
would rather be caught stealing a watch 
than saying that a book " filled a long- 
felt want " — and unquestionably the two 
offences differ in kind rather than de- 
gree. It was Daudet who expressed the 
philosophy of the hackneyed phrase 
perhaps rather more felicitously than any 
other : 

What profound disgust must those epithets 
feel which have lived for centuries with the same 



nouns! Bad writers cannot be made to compre- 
hend this. They think divorce is not permitted 
to words. There are people who write without 
blushing: venerable trees, melodious accents. 
Venerable is not an ugly word; put it with 
another substantive — "your venerable burden," 
"most venerable worth," etc., — you see the 
union is good. In short, the epithet should be 
the mistress of the substantive, never its lawful 
wife. Between words there must be passing 
liaisons, but no eternal marriages. It is that 
which distinguishes the original writer from 

It is that, an Anglo-Saxon critic finds 
himself instinctively adding, that distin- 
guishes just a few of the more prominent 
British writers of the young school; 
writers otherwise very wide apart indeed 
— Rudyard Kipling and Maurice Hew- 
lett, Joseph Conrad and Alfred Ollivant 
and J. C. Snaith — to mention only a few 
striking examples. Each of these has a 


style of his own; some of them, indeed, 
have a number of styles, to be donned and 
doffed upon occasion ; but the one trait that 
they all have in common is a frank audac- 
ity of new combinations, a tendency to 
take liberties with noun and adjective, and 
pair them off with as little ceremony as a 
hostess pairs off her guests for a cotillion 
— and with as little malice. De Quincey 
wrote, not without a grain of literary snob- 
bishness : 

Like boys who are throwing the sun's rays 
in the eyes of a mob by means of a mirror, you 
must shift your lights and vibrate your reflec- 
tions at every possible angle, if you would agi- 
tate the popular mind extensively. 

De Quincey, of course, had a certain 
ingrained scorn of the popular mind. It 
was quite unconsciously, while here intend- 
ing to stigmatise a type of bad rhetoric, 
that he actually gave us a rather vivid 


metaphor of the principle upon which lan- 
guage tends constantly to renew itself. 

And this brings us to a vital point in 
the whole question of acquiring style. If 
you are proposing to learn the craft of 
building, or pottery making, or carpet 
weaving, will you be satisfied to know noth- 
ing beyond what has been done by England 
or America? Or will you, just as a mat- 
ter of business shrewdness, study what has 
been done in the past in Greece and Rome, 
in Egypt and Turkey and India? The 
business man and the scientist always keep 
a keen eye on the whole world. And the 
man of letters cannot afford to do less. 
If you run over the list of the world's 
great stylists, you will find that they were, 
relatively speaking, linguists. I use the 
term, relatively speaking, advisedly; be- 
cause in some countries and at certain 
epochs, a man who knew one language be- 
sides his own passed as a person of learn- 


ing; while in another, two or three extra 
tongues carried slight distinction. One of 
our professional humourists once said that 
he knew a man who spoke seventeen lan- 
guages, and never said anything of Impor- 
tance in any of them. There Is a point at 
which the brain becomes merely acquisi- 
tive. But the possession of two or three 
languages besides onee's own is the best 
of all aids to a distinctive style. It was 
James Russell Lowell who said : " The 
practice of translation, by making us de- 
liberate in the choice of the best equivalent 
of the foreign word In our own language, 
has likewise the advantage of continually 
schooling us In one of the main elements 
of a good styles — precision; and precision 
of thought is not only exemplified by pre- 
cision of language, but is largely dependent 
on the habit of it." 

There are, besides, certain advantages 
to be gained from seeing the purely tech- 



nical difficulties of language managed with 
masterly skill in a different medium from 
our own. We may struggle for years to 
acquire facility in avoiding harsh combi- 
nations of final and initial letters, the ex- 
asperating recurrence of some cacophonous 
but necessary relative pronoun, the jerk 
and jolt of an awkward rhythm — and at 
the end of that time we shall not know as 
much of the philosophy of a fluent and me- 
lodious style as could have been learned by 
one quarter of the effort through exam- 
ining what can be done in a naturally musi- 
cal language like Greek; a language in 
which harsh final mutes have no existence 
and in which one difficulty of a good prose 
style was not that of interweaving poetic 
rhythms, but rather of avoiding them. 
And similarly we can learn to correct our 
own tendencies to carry certain principles 
of prose writing to excess by seeing these 
same principles carried to a reductio ad 



absurdum, A good illustration of this 
point Is contained in Zola's account of 
Turgeneff's amazement as he listened to a 
discussion between Flaubert and his friends 
regarding that very point already referred 
to, the pursuit of the one inevitable word : 

Turgeneff opened enormous eyes. He evi- 
dently did not understand; he declared that no 
writer, in any language, had ever refined his style 
to such an extent. At home, in Russia, nothing 
of the kind existed. From that day forth, every 
time that he heard us cursing the whas and the 
which' s, I often saw him smile; and he said that 
we were quite wrong not to make a franker use 
of our language, which is one of the clearest and 
simplest there are. I am of his opinion, I have 
always been struck with the justice of his judg- 
ment; it is perhaps because, being a stranger, he 
sees us from the necessary distance and detach- 

But whether you accept Turgeneff's 
view and choose to cultivate the franker 


use of language ; or on the other hand are 
pleased to pursue endlessly the elusive will- 
o'-the-wisp of perfection, remember al- 
ways that style ceases to be good the mo- 
ment that It is cultivated for its own sake 
and not simply as an integral part of the 
whole unified structure. They teach a 
great deal about the importance of onomat- 
opoeia as practised by Homer and Vergil; 
and I think that a great many young stu- 
V dents gather the idea that It is a quality 
which ought to flaunt itself before the eye 
and ear so that as one scans certain lines 
of the Iliad or the JEneid one's predominat- 
ing thought should be: How wonderfully 
the rhythm and the consonant pattern here 
suggests the poet's meaning. Now this, 
of course, is a fallacy, and there is no bet- 
ter way of showing that fallacy than by 
quoting Daudet's delicious little anec- 
dote : 



I shall never forget the famous: Quadrupe- 
dante putrem' sonitu quatit. ... It was al- 
ways cited to us as an example of onomatopoeia, 
and my teacher had persuaded me that one might 
mistake it for the gallop of a horse. 

One day, wishing to frighten my little sister, 
who had a great fear of horses, I came up be- 
hind her and cried, " Quadrupedante putrem/* 
and so forth. Well, the little thing wasn't 
frightened ! 

Onomatopoeia, like everything else per- 
taining to style, is used properly when it 
does not obtrude itself, when it helps us 
to form a mental picture without our be- 
ing aware by what agency the author has 
attained his result. Take, for instance, 
one of the most extreme instances in mod- 
ern writing of an attempt to fit sound to 
meaning — the libretti to Wagner's Ring, 
When you read the text quietly by your- 
self you feel that the whole thing has been 
overdone ; the various tricks of alliteration 



stick out like so many bristles. But when 
this same text is applied to the purpose 
for which it was intended, you notice none 
of this, because the sound and the meaning 
blend so perfectly with the rhythm of the 

And in all elements affecting style this 
same principle applies. Any ornament 
which is used solely because it is orna- 
ment, solely because the author wishes to 
use his subject to call attention to his man- 
ner rather than make his manner do 
obeisance to his theme, Is vulgar ornament, 
as offensive to good taste as over-dress in 
women. In style, as in everything else 
pertaining to the craftsmanship of writing, 
learn to practise ''that fine art which so 
artfully ail things conceals." 





There seems to be a widespread and un- 
fortunate belief that there Is no such thing 
as a technique of translating; or that, If 
there Is, It Is a negligible matter, — some- 
thing which Is unconsciously absorbed 
along with the power to render Into 
English OUendorfian sentences after the 
fashion of " No, I have not the green um- 
brella of your deaf grandmother, but the 
big Russian Is up a tree." Translation, 
so the argument seems to run. Is an even 
simpler matter than original work: the 
latter requires pen. Ink and paper, and a 
certain natural aptitude; translation re- 
quires only pen, Ink and paper, — the for- 
eign author Is expected to supply the nat- 


ural aptitude. Here, on the one hand, is 
the book to be translated; and here, on 
the other, is a stout, able-bodied dictionary 
which can be relied on to give some sort of 
an equivalent for each of the foreign 
words. A little patient plodding and in- 
dustrious thumbing of the pages, — and 
there you are ! 

Such is the genesis of a good deal of 
the mediocre translation which in recent 
years has brought the whole craft into 
disrepute. The prevailing modern atti- 
tude, in this country at least, is well illus- 
trated by a sentence in a popular novel of 
the present season. The author, wishing 
to impress upon us his heroine's want of 
culture and of literary standards, remarks 
that she will read anything, ranging all the 
way from works of real worth to ten-cent 
translations of French novels. It appar- 
ently did not occur to that author that a 
ten-cent translation of a French novel is 


quite as likely to be a masterpiece as are 
the great majority of current American 
novels which will probably never be trans- 
lated into any sort of foreign edition, ten- 
cent or otherwise. 

Now, as a matter of fact, there is a 
technique of translating and one which is 
neither quickly nor easily acquired. Wal- 
ter Pater's comparison of translating to a 
copy of a picture made through tracing 
paper sounds clever but is misleading. 
Mechanical aid in rendering one language 
into another is precisely the sort of aid 
which must be most scrupulously avoided. 
The mere ability to hold a pencil and copy 
the strokes line by line does not even make 
up the alphabet of the craft. You might 
spend your life putting tracing paper over 
Raphael's Madonna della Sedia without 
ever getting more than a caricature of the 
original. It takes a long apprenticeship 
and a specially developed skill to enable a 


painter to produce on canvas a really 
worthy copy of a great master. 

And yet a good many beginners in writ- 
ing persist in believing that there is a 
market for their amateur translations. 
They do not seem to realise that for sev- 
eral reasons there is much more hope for 
their crude original work than for their 
equally crude distortions of the work of 
someone else. Early work usually shows 
a certain amount of proportion between 
subject and execution. The great ma- 
jority of short stories that may honestly 
be called " not half bad " in workmanship 
are also " not half bad " in theme. But 
when a beginner attempts to translate one 
of the world's classics, or even the latest 
volume of some widely read modern 
novelist, he is clothing big thoughts in 
unworthy phrases and his deficiencies of 
style are doubly glaring by contrast. 

Nevertheless, the practice of translat- 



ing, as the quotation from James Russell 
Lowell In the preceding chapter pointed 
out, Is one of the best possible means of 
acquiring style ; and If practised merely as 
an exercise and without any misplaced 
ambition for publication, It Is a training 
which cannot be too strongly recommended 
to the apprentice In the craft of writing. 
The only trouble with LowelPs utterance 
is that he limits the value of translation 
to a single element of style, namely, pre- 
cision. As a matter of fact, It Is one of 
the most valuable aids which we possess 
to acquiring an appreciation, not merely 
of a precision of words, but of new rhythms 
and new possibilities of linguistic effects. 
A trained translator of sterling authors 
soon learns that If he hopes to preserve, 
with a fair amount of fidelity, the distinc- 
tive quality of the original author, he must 
convey over into his own language some- 
thing of the linguistic harmony and the 


phrase cadence. The present writer 
knows from experience how hard a task 
this Is and what hours of labour It some- 
times takes to reproduce in English a 
single paragraph of French or Italian or 
Spanish, with even an approximate re- 
tention of the original sound pattern and 
the original number of syllables. Of 
course, It Is only now and then In some 
passage of particular lyric beauty that care 
like this becomes Imperative ; but the ordi- 
nary hack translator seldom If ever trou- 
bles himself at all about such matters. The 
ambitious craftsman, on the contrary, may 
well spend many a day and week after this 
fashion because he will thus learn a sur- 
prising amount of sheer linguistic gymnas- 
tics. Translation, whether from Greek, 
Latin, or some modern tongue, is to the 
literary craftsman like chest weights and 
Indian clubs to the college athlete : it brings 
his mental muscles into training. 



Now if we want to train ourselves to 
translate well, the first step is to get fixed 
clearly in our minds on which of several 
principles the best kind of translation is 
based. It was Lowell who after subdivid- 
ing translation under the two heads of 
paraphrase and reproduction, went on to 

The paraphrase is a plaster-cast of the Grecian 
Urn; the reproduction, If by a man of genius, 
such as the late Fitzgerald, is like Keat's Ode 
which makes the figures move and the leaves 
tremble again, if not with the old life, with a 
sorcery which deceives the fancy. 

As between literal paraphrase and a 
certain degree of freedom, Lowell is un- 
doubtedly right in deciding in favour of 
the second. Common sense, as well as 
the verdict of literary history, supports 
the contention that any translation which 
is to survive must be the work of some- 


body possessed of a certain individual 
bigness, somebody who himself has some- 
thing to say, something original with 
which to replace that delicate and volatile 
essence that is inevitably lost In the process 
of transference. Of all the arts and 
crafts, translation is most closely akin to 
acting. The translator, like the actor, 
must temporarily sink his personality in 
that of another; he must speak not his own 
thoughts, but the lines that are set down 
for him. But every translator, like every 
actor, has a right to his own conception of 
his part; he can, so to speak, supply his 
own gestures, his own stage business. 
And, if he is an actor devoid of origi- 
nality, if he has no ideas to supply, no ges- . 
tures of his own, no power to make his 
personality tell upon the stage, then at 
best his must be a sorry performance.- 
Edgar Allan Poe is not the only writer 
who has formulated the following theory 


of the best translation ; but no one else has 
expressed it half so well: 

There is one point (never yet, I believe, no- 
ticed) which, obviously, should be considered in 
translation. We should so render the original 
that the version should impress the people for 
whom it is intended just as the original im- 
presses the people for whom it (the original) is 

Now, if we rigorously translate mere local 
idiosyncrasies of phrase (to say nothing of idioms) 
we inevitably distort the author's designed im- 
pression. We are sure to produce a whimsical, 
at least, if not always a ludicrous, effect — for 
novelties, in a case of this kind, are incongruities 
and oddities. A distinction, of course, should be 
observed between those peculiarities which ap- 
pertain to the nation and those which belong to 
the author himself, for these latter will have a 
similar effect upon all nations, and should be 
literally translated. . . . 

The phraseology of every nation has a taint 
of drollery about it in the ears of every other na- 


tion speaking a diflerent tongue. Now, to con- 
vey the true spirit of an author, this taint should 
be corrected, in translation. We should pride 
ourselves less upon literality and more upon dex- 
terity at paraphrase. Is it not clear that, by such 
dexterity, a translation may he made t@ convey to 
a foreigner a juster conception of an original than 
could the original itself f 

To produce upon an English reader the 
identical impression produced by any par- 
ticular original work upon an ancient 
Greek or Roman, a modern Frenchman 
or Italian is, of course, an unattainable 
Ideal. The thing at best can be done only 
approximately. In the case of the Iliad, 
for instance, a certain dominant note felt 
by every Greek must have been that of 
intense patriotism, a thrill of pride at the 
thought of his own nation's achievements, 
— and of course no dexterity of transla- 
tion could ever duplicate that thrill in the 
alien Anglo-Saxon reader. But this is no 


reason for adopting the fallacious theory 
of translation laid down by Matthew 
Arnold in his well-known essay On Trans- 
lating Homer: 

No one can tell him (the would-be translator) 
how Homer affected the Greeks, but there are 
those who can tell him how Homer affects them. 
These are scholars, who possess, at the same time 
with knowledge of Greek, adequate poetical taste 
and feeling. No translation will seem to them 
of much worth compared with the original ; they 
alone can say whether the translation produces 
more or less the same effect upon them as the 
original. They are the only competent tribunals 
in this matter ; the Greeks are dead ; the unlearned 
Englishman has not the data for judging; and no 
man can safely confide in his own single judg- 
ment of his own work. Let not the translator, 
then, trust to his notions of what the ancient 
Greeks would have thought of him; he will lose 
himself in the vague. Let him not trust to what 
the ordinary English reader thinks of him; he 
will be taking the blind for his guide. Let him 



not trust to his own judgment of his own work; 
he may be misled by individual caprices. Let 
him ask how his work affects those who both 
know Greek and can appreciate poetry; whether 
to read it gives the Provost of Eton, or Professor 
Thompson at Cambridge, or Professor Jowett 
here in Oxford, at all the same feeling which to 
read the original gives them. 

It is difficult to imagine any method of 
translation better calculated to distort If 
not destroy the spirit of the original than 
this advice of Matthew Arnold's. What- 
ever Impression the Iliad made upon the 
ancient Greeks, it is safe to assume that 
It was as far removed as possible from 
the impression that it makes to-day upon 
the typical middle-aged professor of dead 
languages, profoundly versed in archae- 
ology and syntax. It is very much as 
though he were to say to the contempo- 
rary translator of Flaubert or Maupas- 



sant: "Do not trouble yourself about 
what the modern Frenchman thinks of 
these authors; do not trouble yourself 
about what the modern Englishman is 
likely to think; put no faith in what you 
yourself think, — but try to imagine that 
you are translating for the benefit of a 
small audience of people who know French 
as well as English, who by long residence 
have absorbed the customs of the country 
and who by nature and training have 
rather more interest in literature than they 
have in life." Unfortunately for this 
theory, it is the ordinary English reader 
who is going to decide what he thinks of 
a foreign author given to him in transla- 
tion; he, and no one else, is the man who 
must be satisfied. And you can satisfy 
him only by remembering constantly that 
a translator is an interpreter and guide. 
It is not enough for him to know exhaus- 
tively the meaning of the original, but he 


must also realise the limitations of his 
English audience and foresee what por- 
tions of a foreign-work will be unintelligi- 
ble for other reasons than that of a for- 
eign tongue. The translator of the high- 
est type is in a measure an appreciative 
and Indulgent critic whose first aim Is to 
make his audience share his own enthusi- 
asm for his subject, to bring out not merely 
some one beauty, but all the beauties of 
the original; to make us feel not merely 
an author's theme but his individual style, 
not only the action of his story but its 
pervading atmosphere. 

Let us ask ourselves briefly what are 
the requirements for this ideal type of 
translator. He must have, first of all, a 
thorough mastery of the foreign language, 
and secondly, of his own; he must have a 
special and Intimate acquaintance with the 
author he has undertaken to translate, and 
lastly, he needs an Intuitive sense of the 



limitations of the public for whom he is 

Now, when we speak of a thorough 
mastery of a foreign language, we mean 
that sort of knowledge which grasps the 
sense of a printed page without conscious 
effort, appreciating all those nicer subtle- 
ties of language that lie beyond the reach 
of grammar and lexicon. There are trans- 
lators who from long practise can glibly 
roll forth a smooth and readable transla- 
tion from a book they have never seen 
before at a speed which taxes the power 
of their stenographer to keep pace with 
them. No matter how experienced trans- 
lators of this sort may be, they are to be 
mistrusted for work demanding a fine lin- 
guistic appreciation. There is in all work 
of a high literary order a certain quality 
peculiar to the genius of the language. 
As your eye travels down the printed page 
you catch something which you know can 


not be carried over In full measure Into 
another tongue; you must pause and hesi- 
tate and reconsider In a constant and ever 
recurring effort to reduce such sacrifice to a 
minimum. And for this reason, when you 
see another translator pushing blithely on- 
ward undaunted by such difficulties, the 
natural conclusion is that he Is afflicted 
with a certain mental color-blindness, se- 
renely unaware that he is missing the more 
delicate shading of verbal tones. 

And the same nicety of sense of the 
meaning of words, the rhythm and ca- 
dence of sentences is demanded of the 
translator regarding the language Into 
which he is translating. A far greater 
wealth of resource Is needed by him than 
by the original craftsman. A writer who 
is doing creative work Is free to choose 
his own vocabulary; he may affect the ab- 
ruptness and simplicity of Anglo-Saxon 
monosyllables or he may emulate what 



Carlyle has called the " fine buckram 
style" of Dr. Johnson; he may use few 
words or he may roll them out in a rush- 
ing, surging flood. But the translator is 
in all these respects bound by his foreign 
model; he, more than any other writer, 
must be possessed of an infinite resource 
of word and phrase, — because sometimes 
only a hair's breadth lies between humour 
and pathos, between the tragic and the 
grotesque; and that hair's breadth the 
translator is bound to preserve. 

Thirdly, before trying to put into Eng- 
lish even some very simple and very brief 
piece of writing from a foreign pen, it is 
your duty as a good craftsman to know 
your author, — not merely to know the one 
specimen of his work that you are trans- 
lating but a sufficient number of his vol- 
umes to give you the right to claim an 
intimate knowledge of his style, his struc- 
ture, his philosophy of life. You may be 


able to produce a fairly adequate render- 
ing of line Passion Dans le Desert or of 
La Fete a Coqueville without ever having 
heard the phrases, Comedie Humaine or 
Les Rougon-Macquart. Yet it is safe to 
say that there would be something miss- 
ing, something of that intangible person- 
ality which lies behind the words and 
which would persistently elude any trans- 
lator who was not thoroughly Imbued with 
the writings of Balzac or of Zola in their 
entirety. I remember a striking Instance of 
this in the case of a translation published 
some years ago of Stendhal's Chartreuse 
de Parme, Now anyone who Is familiar 
with Stendhal knows that his style was 
short, abrupt, rather bold, formed as he 
himself ironically Insisted on a daily read- 
ing of the Civil Code. But this the trans- 
lator In question did not happen to know; 
It was safe to assume that aside from the 
Chartreuse de Parme he had never read 


a line of Stendhal. And not liking the 
plainness of the style and quite missing the 
terse, crisp forcefulness of it, he proceeded 
to embellish it in the English translation, 
smoothing and amplifying and incidentally 
falling into numerous amusing blunders. 
The simple statement, for instance, that a 
carriage was heard " approaching at a 
trot," was expanded by the translator into 
" the brisk trot of the two sturdy little 
horses," regardless of the fact that the 
context showed that the carriage in ques- 
tion was a one-horse vehicle. 

And, fourthly, it is essential to keep in 
mind the limitations of the special public 
for whom you are translating. A version 
of a classic author intended as a " crib " 
for college students is necessarily a very 
different sort of production from a ren- 
dering intended for the general reader. 
In the former case, the intention is to em- 
phasize the points of difference between 



classic habits of speech and thought, and 
our own; in the latter, the intention is to 
disguise these points of difference. The 
one translation says: here is an unaccus- 
tomed road, steep and craggy and full of 
ruts; jolt over it as best you can. The 
whole purpose of the other is to make the 
road so smooth that you almost forget 
that the road lies in a foreign country. 

The words, almost forget, are used ad- 
visedly. We have seen that the aim of 
the ideal translation is to place us as nearly 
as possible in the place of readers for 
whom the original is intended. Now, 
take a French novel, the scene of which is 
laid in Paris. A Frenchman, reading this 
novel, would on the one hand feel no sense 
of strange environment; but, on the other, 
he would not for a moment lose sight of 
the fact that the action was taking place 
in Paris, and there is but one Paris in the 
whole wide world. Now, in translating, 


It Is Impossible to preserve both these im- 
pressions; you must either In a measure 
sacrifice the environment, the milieu, or else 
you must convey to the Anglo-Saxon reader 
some sense of strangeness. It Is a matter 
of compromise, and no general rules can 
be laid down. Take for example, the 
whole question of street nomenclature: 
To the reader with no knowledge of a 
foreign tongue, rue and strasse and via 
and calle necessarily strike the eye and ear 
with a certain degree of queerness, — yet, 
to call these foreign public ways streets 
would seem still queerer. One expects the 
signs in a foreign city to look different, 
just as one expects to be wet when one 
goes In swimming. It Is not the normal 
rule of life to be wet, but It would seem 
considerably queerer to go In swimming 
and remain dry. It was possible for 
Thackeray, In light verse, to say whimsi- 
cally, " Rue Neuve des Petits Champs the 


name Is, The New Street of the Little 
Fields ; *' but It would be sheer grotesque- 
ness In serious prose to speak of the Place 
of the Star, and the Avenue of the Elyslan 

Similarly, foreign titles of courtesy and 
conventional terms of address cannot be 
translated without producmg a curious hy- 
brid effect utterly out of tone with the con- 
text. Mme de Montespan has a foreign 
sound; Mrj. De Montespan Is neither more 
nor less than burlesque. Even the least 
travelled modern reader knows that in 
Berlin people greet each other as Herr and 
Frau, in Florence as Signor and Signora, 
and not as Mr. and Mrs. Of course there 
are certain anomalous cases that are rather 
baffling; In Germany especially the compli- 
cated forms of address, Herr Ober-Lieu- 
tenant, Frau Professorin, and the like, lead 
the translator between a Scylla of incon- 
sistency and a Charybdis of farce-comedy. 



Here, as always in translating, the one 
safe rule is, compromise, — and in this the 
instinct of the born translator is revealed. 
But there are certain problems, certain 
pitfalls, that cannot be foreseen, any more 
than they can be classified, which every 
now and then arise to disconcert and ham- 
per the translator, usually at a moment 
when everything seems to be running most 
smoothly. There are, for instance, cer- 
tain plays upon words, certain effects de- 
pendent upon the sound or cadence of the 
original that is simply untranslatable. Mr. 
William Archer, in his preface to the col- 
lected works of Ibsen, points out that this 
type of difficulty is curiously frequent in 
the writings of the great Norwegian dram- 
atist, and cites in particular the following 
illustration : 

In not a few cases the difficulties have proved 
sheer impossibilities. I will cite only one in- 
stance. Writing of The Master Builder, a very 



competent, and indeed generous, critic finds in 
it " a curious example of perhaps inevitable 
inadequacy. ... * Duty ! Duty ! Duty ! ' 
Hilda once exclaims in a scornful outburst, 
* What a short, sharp, stinging word ! ' The 
epithets do not seem specially apt. But in the 
original she cries out, * Plight ! Plight ! Plight ! * 
And the very vi^ord stings and snaps." I sub- 
mit that in this criticism there is one superfluous 
word — to wit, the " perhaps " which qualifies 
" inevitable." ... It might be possible, no 
doubt, to adapt Hilda's phrase to the English 
word and say, " It sounds like the swish of a 
whip lash," or something to that effect. But 
this is a sort of freedom which, rightly or 
wrongly, I hold inadmissible. 

An analogous case, in my own experi- 
ence, occurred In an attempt to translate 
the opening chapter of Don Gesualdo, 
from the Italian of Giovanni Verga. It 
went quite smoothly, — Verga's style Is the 
essence of simplicity, — until I reached the 
place where the Trao Palace Is on fire, and 


old Don Ferdinando, " looking like a mad- 
man, with a face of parchment, kept re- 
peating asthmatlcally, precisely like a duck : 
* This way I this way ! ' " Now, in Eng- 
lish this statement seems devoid of signifi- 
cance; it is not the habit of any ducks of 
which we have ever had experience, to re- 
peat " This way ! this way ! " It happens, 
however, that what Don Ferdinando said 
in Italian was, " Di qua I di qua ! " — 
which seems to be fairly good duck lan- 
guage, whether in Sicily or America, — 
but unfortunately one of thos,e happy ef- 
fects that refuse to be translated. 

Lastly, a word or two of practical ad- 
vice about the best way of achieving results 
in translating. Remember that the trans- 
lator is in a certain sense a dual personal- 
ity; he must be on the one hand a born 
Frenchman, and a born Englishman or 
American on the other. Now, no one can 
be to the full extent these two things at 



once; and therefore no flawless piece of 
translating can be produced at a single sit- 
ting. The best way, then, is to saturate 
yourself with the foreign language, and 
make a first rough draft in English, as 
complete as possible, but clumsy in vocabu- 
lary and ragged in idiom. Put it away 
for a few days ; and then, with the original 
out of sight and out of mind, proceed to 
recast and to refine. A good translation 
is like a good vintage; the first draft is sim- 
ply the pressing of the grapes, — the best 
you can do is to make sure that you have 
expelled the juice to the last drop. But 
you must give it time to age, before it is 
ready to be put on the market. 




Adam's Diar^ 51 

Addison, Joseph 56 

^neid, The 238 

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland . . . .119 

Amicis, Edmondo de 139 

Annunzio, Gabriele D' 230 

Appreciation of Literature, The (Woodberry) . 69 

Archer, William 265 

Argent Dans La Litterature, V 15 

Arnold, Matthew, 54, 253, 254 

Art of Fiction, The (Henry James) .... 64 

Assommoir, U 108 

Austen, Jane 58 

Autobiography of Walter Besant 14 

Autobiography of Anthony Trollope . 63, 71, 184 
Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, The . . 194, 199 
Awkward Age, The 65, 66, 88, 138 

Bacon, Francis (Lord Verulam) 56 

Balzac, Honore de . 51, 85, 122, 123, 163, 166, 260 

Baudelaire, Charles 218 

Belle Helene, La 107 

Benson, A. C 112 

Besant, Sir Walter 14, 40 

Bible, The 93 

Birrell, Augustine . . , 58 

Boccaccio, Giovanni 123 

Botticelli, Sandro 68 

Bouguereau » » 33 




Bouvard et Pecuchet 171 

Bride of Abydos, The 154 

Browne, Sir Thomas 218 

Byron, Lord 153 

Camp, Maxime du 57 

Captains Courageous 67 

Carlyle, Thomas 116, 125, 259 

Cavalleria Rusticana 145 

Cervantes 56, 121, 123 

Charivari 168 

Chartreuse de Parme 260 

Chevalier de Maison Rouge loi 

Childe Harold 55 

" College Magazine, A" (Stevenson) .... 218 

Comedie Humaine, La 85, 166, 260 

Conrad, Joseph 232 

Contes Drolatiques, Les (Balzac) 123 

Corsair, The (Byron) 154 

Cowper, William 56 

Crawford, Francis Marion 93, i95 

Curiosities of Literature (Disraeli) . . . .153 

Dante 125 

Daudet, Alphonse .... 86, 100, 140, 231, 238 

David CopperHeld 68 

Davidson, A. K loi 

Decameron, The 68 

De Coverley Papers, The 119 

Defoe, Daniel 218 

De Quincey, Thomas 223, 233 

Dickens, Charles . 33, 60, 69, 97, 104, 105, 121, 122 

Disraeli, Benjamin 153 

Divine Comedy, The 125 

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 89, 90 

Don Gesualdo (Verga) 266 

Don Juan 220 




Don Quixote 68, 123 

Doumic, Rene no 

Dumas, Alexandre 30, loi, 102, no 

Edgeworth, Marie I97 

Education Sentimentdle, U (Flaubert) ... 168 

Eliot, George 56, 60, 97 

Emerson, Ralph Waldo . . . . . . . .227 

Epic of the Wheat (Frank Norris) .... 84 

Essay on Milton (Macaulay) 92 

Essay on Style (De Quincey) 223 

Essay on Style (Pater) 223 

Fete & Coqueville, La 260 

Fielding, Henry .... 56, 60, 104, 121, 133 

Fitzgerald, Edward 249 

Flaubert, Gustave . 12, 122, 167, 169, 171, 173,224, 

225, 226, 227, 237, 254 

France, Anatole 58, 63, 149 

From a College Window (Benson) . . . .112 

Gautier, Theophile S6, 57, 148, 163 

Ghirlandajo 68 

Gibbon, Edward 88 

Gilbert, Sir William 202 

Gissing, George 136 

Gogol 122 

Gosse, Edmund 75 

Gulliver's Travels 119 

Gyp 65, 66 

Hamlet 68, 104 

Hardy, Thomas 108 

Harrison, Frederic 91 

Hawthorne, Nathaniel 97, 106, 218 

Hazlitt, William 218 

Henry, 54 




Hermana San Sulpicio, La 63, 122 

Hewlett, Maurice 136, 162, 163, 232 

Hill, Professor A. S 31, 180, 219 

Holmes, Oliver Wendell 59, 199 

Homer 58, 121, 253, 238 

Howells, William Dean .... 62, 6zt 96, 136 

Ibsen, Henrik 105, 265 

Iliad, The 107, 157, 238, 252, 254 

Innocents Abroad 51 

"Is It Possible to Tell a Good Book From a 
Bad One?" (Augustine Birrell) .... 58 

James, Henry, 63, 64, 65, 69, 88, 118, 136, 137, 138, 

14s, 204, 205, 220 

. Johnson, Dr. Samuel 259 

Jungle Books, The 119 

Keats, John 136, 249 

Kipling, Rudyard . . , . 22, 54, (6, 67, 75, 123, 

136, 230, 232 

La Bfiiyere, Jean de 9 

Lamb, Charles 218 

Lang, Andrew 106 

Lavedan, Henri 65 

Lettres de Jeunesse (Zola) .71 

Life of Byron (Moore) 55 

Life of Alexandre Dumas (A. K Davidson) . loi 

Light That Failed, The 22, 67, 222 

Lovenjoul, Spoelberch de 85 

Lowell, James Russell, 51, 211, 223, 229, 235, 247, 249 

McTeague (Frank Norris) 8 

Macaulay, Lord 92, 184, 193 

Macbeth 104 

Mackenzie, Henry ;.i . 56 




Madame B ovary (Flaubert) 225 

Manzoni, Alessandro 122 

Marble Faun, The 107 

Maupassant, Guy de, 12, 54, 63, 69, no, 123, 229, 254 
Memories and Thoughts (F. Harrison) ... 91 

Meredith, George 75, 108, 112 

Merimee, Prosper 148 

Milton, John 56, 59, I35, 136 

Miserahles, Les 225 

Modern Love 75 

Modern Painters 32 

Montaigne, Michel de 218 

Montespan, Madame de 264 

Moore, George 136 

Moore, Thomas 55 

Moran of the Lady Letty (Frank Norris) . . 8 
My Literary Passions (Howells) 96 

Norris, Frank . 8, 84 

Notes From Life j^JDaudet) 100 

Novel: What It Is, The (Crawford) .... 93 
Numa Roumestan (Daudet) 140, 141 

Obermann 218 

Octopus, The (Frank Norris) 85 

Ollivant, Alfred 232 

On Translating Homer (Matthew Arnold) . . 253 

Othello 104 

Our English (A. S. Hill) 31 

Ovid 153 

Paradise Lost 68 

Passion dans le Desert, Une 260 

Pater, Walter 50, 211, 223, 225, 245 

Pattison, Mark 91 

Phillips, David Graham 26 

Philosophy of Composition, The (Poe) ... 98 

Pied de Momie (Gautier) ....... 148 




Pierre et Jean (Maupassant) 63, 229 

Pilgrim's Progress, The (Bunyan) . . . .119 

Pit, The (Frank Norris) 85 

Poe, Edgar Allan . . 54, 63, 98, 100, 123, 194, 250 

Pope, Alexander 55 

Portraits Contemporains (Gautier) .... 164 
Procurateur de Judee, Le (Anatole France) . 149 

Quintillian 230 

Rabelais, Frangois 56, 121 

Raven, The (Poe) 63, 100 

Redcoat Captain (Ollivant) 119 

Reade, Charles 97 

Richardson, Samuel 56, 68 

Robertson, Morgan 40 

Robinson Crusoe (Defoe) 41 

Rod, Edouard 33 

Roderick Random (Smollett) 133 

Rois en Exile, Les (Daudet) 86 

Romanciers Naturalist es (Zola) 167 

Roman Empire, The Decline and Fall of the . 88 

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel 136 

Rouge et le Noir, Le (Stendhal) 225 

Rougon-Macquart, Les 260 

Rousseau, Jean Jacques 56 

Ruskin, John 32, 39, ii9 

Sainte Beuve i97 

Saintsbury, Professor George .... 220, 221 

Sand, George 122 

Scott, Sir Walter 224 

Shakespeare, William . . 56, 75, 92, 104, 105, 136 
" Shakespeare Once More " (Lowell) . . . .51 

Smollett, Tobias 56, 68, 104, 133 

Snaith, J. C 232 

Sonnets From the Portuguese (Mrs. Browning) 75 
Stendhal 182, 260, 261 




Sterne, Laurence ....... 56, 68, 133 

Stevenson, Robert Louis, ^2^ 89, 90, 218, 220^ 221, 2.22, 

Stevenson, Mrs. Robert Louis 89 

Stowe, Harriet Beecher 95 

Sullivan, Sir Arthur 202 

Tarn O'Shanter (Burns) 108 

Terry, Ellen 73 

Thackeray, William Makepeace . . 65, 69, 97, 104, 

105, 121, 122, 263 
Thoreau, Henry David .... 59, 87, 154, 170 

Tolstoy, Count Leo 122 

Tom Jones (Fielding) 68, 133 

Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain) 51 

Traill, H. D 220 

Treasure Island (Stevenson) 41 

Trois Mousquetaires, Les (Dumas) .... 30 
Trollope, Anthony . . .63, 105, 143, 173, 174, 184 

Tristram Shandy (Sterne) 133 

Turguenief 97, 'i-Z?, 257 

Twain, Mark 50 

Valdes, Armando Palacio . . . , 6z, 121, 122 

Vanity Fair (Thackeray) 65, 68 

Venus D'llle (Merimee) 148 

Verga, Giovanni 145, 266 

Vergil 238 

Wagner, Richard 239 

War and Peace (Tolstoy) 122 

Wendell, Barrett 192, 201 

What Maisie Knew (Henry James) .... 145 

Wister, Owen 80 

Woodberry, Professor George 69 

Wordsworth, William . . .50, 51, 56, 93, 135, 218 

Zola, Emile, 15, 21, 63, 71, 95, i39, 140, 167, 168, 171, 

237, 260 

- [275] 

^ 14 DAY USE 


This book is due on the last date stamped below, or 

on the date to which renewed. 

Renewed books are subject to immediate recall. 

3JuV58 SK 







^f'fiii'W- Hf,-. 


LD 21A-50m-8,'67 

General Library 

University of California 


I -M