Letter to a Young Contributor 4

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returned in almost as hopeless a chaos of corrections
as the manuscript first submitted. Whole sentences
were erased, others transposed, everything modified.
A second and a third followed, alike torn to pieces by
the ravenous pen of Balzac. The despairing printers
labored by turns, only the picked men of the office being
equal to the task, and they relieving each other at hourly
intervals, as beyond that time no one could endure the
fatigue. At last, by the fourth proof-sheet, the author too
was wearied out, though not contented. "I work ten
hours out of the twenty- four," said he, "over the
elaboration of my unhappy style, and I am never
satisfied, myself, when all is done."
Do not complain that this scrupulousness is probably
wasted, after all, and that nobody knows. The public
knows. People criticize higher than they attain. When
the Athenian audience hissed a public speaker for a
mispronunciation, it did not follow that any one of the
malcontents could pronounce as well as the orator.
In our own lyceum-audiences there may not be a man
who does not yield to his own private eccentricities of
dialect, but see if they do not appreciate elegant English
from Philips or Everett! Men talk of writing down to the
public taste who have never yet written up to that
standard. "There never yet was a good tongue," said
old Fuller, "that wanted ears to hear it." If one were
expecting to be judged by a few scholars only, one
might hope somehow to cajole them; but it is this vast,
unimpassioned, unconscious tribunal, this average
judgment of intelligent minds, which is truly formidable,
--something more undying than senates and more
omnipotent than courts, something which rapidly
cancels all transitory reputations, and at last becomes
the organ of eternal justice and infallibly awards
posthumous fame.
The first demand made by the public upon every
composition is, of course, that it should be attractive.
In addressing a miscellaneous audience, whether
through eye or ear, it is certain that no man living has
a right to be tedious. Every editor is therefore
compelled to insist that his contributors should make
themselves agreeable, whatever else they may do.
To be agreeable, it is not necessary to be amusing;
an essay may be thoroughly delightful without a single
witticism, while a monotone of jokes soon grows tedious.
Charge your style with life, and the public will not ask
for conundrums. But the profounder your discourse,
the greater must necessarily be the effort to refresh and
diversify. I have observed, in addressing audiences of
children in schools and elsewhere, that there is no fact
so grave, no thought so abstract but you can make it
very interesting to the small people, if you will only put
in plenty of detail and illustration; and I have not
observed that in this respect grown men are so very
different. If, therefore, in writing, you find it your mission
to be abstruse, fight to render your statement clear and
attractive, as if your life depended on it: your literary life
does depend on it, and, if you fail, relapses into a dead
language, and becomes, like that of Coleridge, only a 
Biographia Literaria. Labor, therefore, not in thought
alone, but in utterance; clothe and reclothe your grand
conception twenty times, until you find some phrase
that with its grandeur shall be lucid also. It is this
unwearied literary patience that has enabled Emerson
not merely to introduce, but even to popularize, thoughts
of such a quality as never reached the popular mind before.
And when such a writer, thus laborious to do his utmost
for his disciples, becomes after all incomprehensible,
we can try to believe that it is only that inevitable
obscurity of vast thought Coleridge said was a
compliment to the reader.
In learning to write availably, a newspaper-office is a
capital preparatory school. Nothing is so good to teach
the use of materials, and to compel to pungency of style.
Being always at close quarters with his readers, a journalist
must shorten and sharpen his sentences, or he is doomed.
Yet this mental alertness is bought at a severe price; such
living from hand to mouth cheapens the whole mode of intel-