Letter to a Young Contributor 1

Search form


                               ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
                     VOL. IX.--APRIL, 1862.--NO. LIV.
                                   [26-36; 401-411]

My dear young gentleman or young lady,--for many are the
Cecil Dreemes of literature who superscribe their offered manuscripts
with very masculine names in very feminine handwriting,--it seems
wrong not to meet your accumulated and urgent epistles with one
comprehensive reply, thus condensing many private letters into a
printed one. And so large a proportion of "Atlantic" readers either
might, would, could, or should be "Atlantic" contributors also, that
this epistle will be sure of perusal, though Mrs. Stowe remain uncut
and the Autocrat go for an hour without readers.
Far from me be the wild expectation that every author will not
habitually measure the merits of a periodical by its appreciation
of his or her last manuscript. I should as soon ask a young lady
not to estimate the management of a ball by her own private luck
in respect to partners. But it is worth while at least to point out that
in the treatment of every contributor the real interests of editor and
writer are absolutely the same, and any antagonism is merely
traditional, like the supposed hostility between France and England,
or between England and Slavery. No editor can ever afford the
rejection of a good thing, and no author the publication of a bad
one. The only difficulty lies in drawing the line. Were all offered
manuscripts unequivocally good or bad, there would be no great
trouble; it is the vast range of mediocrity which perplexes: the
majority are too bad for blessing and too good for banning; so
that no conceivable reason can be given for either fate, save
that upon the destiny of any single one may hang that of a hundred
others just like it. But whatever be the standard fixed, it is equally
for the interest of all concerned that it be enforced without flinching.
Nor is there the slightest foundation for the supposed editorial
prejudice against new or obscure contributors. On the contrary,
every editor is always hungering and thirsting after novelties.
To take the lead in bringing forward a new genius is as fascinating
a privilege as that of the physician who boasted to Sir Henry
Halford of having been the first man to discover the Asiatic cholera
and to communicate it to the public. It is only stern