Letter to a Young Contributor 2

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necessity which compels the magazine to fall back so
constantly on the regular old staff of contributors, whose
average product has been gauged already; just as every
country-lyceum attempts annually to arrange an entirely
new list of lecturers, and ends with no bolder experiment
than to substitute Chapin and Beecher in place of last
year's Beecher and Chapin.
Of course no editor is infallible, and the best magazine
contains an occasional poor article. Do not blame the
unfortunate conductor. He knows it as well as you do,
--after the deed is done. The newspapers kindly pass
it over, still preparing their accustomed opiate of
sweet praises, so much for each contributor, so much
for the magazine collectively,--like a hostess with her
tea- making, a spoonful for each person and one for
the pot. But I can tell you that there is an official
person who meditates and groans, meanwhile, in
the night-watches, to think that in some atrocious
moment of good-nature or sleepiness he left the
door open and let that ungainly intruder in. Do
you expect him to acknowledge the blunder,
when you tax him with it? Never,--he feels it too
keenly. He rather stands up stoutly for the
surpassing merits of the misshapen thing, as a
mother for her deformed child; and as the mother
is nevertheless inwardly imploring that there may
never be such another born to her, so be sure
that it is not by reminding the editor of this calamity
that you can allure him into risking a repetition of it.
An editor thus shows himself to be but human; and
it is well enough to remember this fact, when you
approach him. He is not a gloomy despot, no
Nemesis or Rhadamanthus, but a bland and
virtuous man, exceedingly anxious to secure plenty
of good subscribers and contributors, and very ready
to perform any acts of kindness not inconsistent with
this grand design. Draw near him, therefore, with
soft approaches and mild persuasions. Do not treat
him like an enemy, and insist on reading your whole
manuscript aloud to him, with appropriate gestures.
His time has some value, if yours has not; and he
has therefore educated his eye till it has become
microscopic, like a naturalist's, and can classify nine
out of ten specimens by one glance at a scale or a
feather. Fancy an ambitious echinoderm claiming a
private interview with Agassiz, to demonstrate by
verbal arguments that he is a mollusk! Besides, do
you expect to administer the things orally to each
of the two hundred thousand, more or less, who
turn the leaves of the "Atlantic"? You are writing for
the average eye, and must submit to its verdict.
"Do not trouble yourself about the light on your
status; it is the light of the public square which
must test its value."
Do not despise any honest propitiation, however
small, in dealing with your editor. Look to the physical
aspect of your manuscript, and prepare your page so
neatly that it shall allure instead of repelling. Use good
pens, black ink, nice white paper and plenty of it.
Do not emulate "paper-sparing Pope," whose chaotic
manuscript of the "Iliad," written chiefly on the backs of
old letters, still remains in the British Museum. If your
document be slovenly, the presumption is that its literary
execution is the same, Pope to the contrary notwithstanding.
An editor's eye becomes carnal, and is easily attracted
by a comely outside. If you really wish to obtain his good-will
for your production, do not first tax his time for deciphering it,
any more than in visiting a millionnaire to solicit a loan you
would begin by asking him to pay for the hire of the carriage
which takes you to his door.
On the same principle, send your composition in such a
shape that it shall not need the slightest literary revision
before printing. Many a bright production dies discarded
which might have been made thoroughly presentable by
a single day's labor of a competent scholar, in shaping,
smoothing, dovetailing, and retrenching. The revision
seems so slight an affair that the aspirant cannot conceive
why there should be much fuss about it.