Letter to a Young Contributor 5

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lectual existence, and it would seem that no successful journalist
could ever get the newspaper out of his blood, or achieve any high
literary success.
For purposes of illustration and elucidation, and even for amplitude
of vocabulary, wealth of accumulated materials is essential; and
whether this wealth be won by reading or by experience makes
no great difference. Coleridge attended Davy's chemical lectures
to acquire new metaphors, and it is of no consequence whether
one comes to literature from a library, a machine-shop, or a
forecastle, provided he has learned to work with thoroughness
the soil he knows. After all is said and done, however, books
remain the chief quarries. Johnson declared, putting the thing
perhaps too mechanically, "The greater part of an author's time
is spent in reading in order to write; a man will turn over half a
library to make one book." Addison collected three folios of
materials before publishing the first number of the "Spectator."
Remember, however, that copious preparation has its perils also,
in the crude display to which it tempts. The object of high culture
is not to exhibit culture, but its results. You do not put guano on
your garden that your garden may blossom guano. Indeed,
even for the proper subordination of one's own thoughts the
same self-control is needed; and there is no severer test of
literary training than in the power to prune out one's most
cherished sentence, when it grows obvious that the sacrifice
will help the symmetry or vigor of the whole.
Be noble both in the affluence and the economy of your
diction; spare no wealth that you can put in, and tolerate no
superfluity that can be struck out. Remember the
Lacedemonian who was fined for saying that in three words
which might as well have been expressed in two. Do not
throw a dozen vague epithets at a thing, in the hope that
some of them will fit; but study each phrase so carefully
that the most ingenious critic cannot alter it without spoiling
the whole passage for everybody but himself. For the same
reason do not take refuge, as was the practice a few years
since, in German combinations, heart-utterances,
soul-sentiments, and hyphenized phrases generally; but
roll your thought into one good English word. There is no
fault which seems so hopeless as commonplaceness, but
it is really easier to elevate the commonplace than to reduce
the turgid. How few men in all the pride of culture can
emulate the easy grace of a bright woman's letter!
Have faith enough in your own individuality to keep it
resolutely down for a year or two. A man has not much
intellectual capital who cannot treat himself to a brief
interval of modesty. Premature individualism commonly
ends either in a reaction against the original whims, or in
a mannerism which perpetuates them. For mannerism no
one is great enough, because, though in the hands of a
strong man it imprisons us in novel fascination, yet we
soon grow weary, and then hate our prison forever. How
sparking was Reade's crisp brilliancy in "Peg Woffington"!
--but into what disagreeable affectations it has since
degenerated! Carlyle was a boon to the human race, amid
the tameness into which English style was declining; but
who is not tired of him and his catchwords now? He was
the Jenner of our modern style, inoculating and saving us
all by his quaint frank Germanism, then dying of his own
disease. Now the age has outgrown him, and is approaching
a mode of writing which unites the smoothness of the
eighteenth century with the vital vigor of the seventeenth,
so that Sir Thomas Browne and Andrew Marvell seem quite
as near to us as Pope or Addison,--a style penetrated with
the best spirit of Carlyle, without a trace of Carlylism.
Be neither too lax nor too precise in your use of language:
the one fault ends in stiffness, the other in slang. Some one
told the Emperor Tiberius that he might give citizenship to
men, but not to words. To be sure, Louis XIV. in childhood,
wishing for a carriage, called for mon carrosse, and made
the former feminine a masculine to all future Frenchmen.
But do not