On the Art of Writing eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 190 pages of information about On the Art of Writing.

A lesson about writing your language may go deeper than language; for language (as in a former lecture I tried to preach to you) is your reason, your [Greek:  logos].  So long as you prefer abstract words, which express other men’s summarised concepts of things, to concrete ones which as near as can be reached to things themselves and are the first-hand material for your thoughts, you will remain, at the best, writers at second-hand.  If your language be Jargon, your intellect, if not your whole character, will almost certainly correspond.  Where your mind should go straight, it will dodge:  the difficulties it should approach with a fair front and grip with a firm hand it will be seeking to evade or circumvent.  For the Style is the Man, and where a man’s treasure is there his heart, and his brain, and his writing, will be also.

LECTURE VI.

ON THE CAPITAL DIFFICULTY OF PROSE

Thursday, May 15

To-day, Gentlemen, leaving the Vanity Fair of Jargon behind us, we have to essay a difficult country; of which, though fairly confident of his compass-bearings, your guide confesses, that wide tracts lie outside his knowledge—­outside of anything that can properly be called his knowledge.  I feel indeed somewhat as Gideon must have felt when he divided his host on the slopes of Mount Gilead, warning back all who were afraid.  In asking the remnant to follow as attentively as they can, I promise only that, if Heaven carry us safely across, we shall have ‘broken the back’ of the desert.

In my last lecture but one, then,—­and before our small interlude with Jargon—­the argument had carried us, more or less neatly, up to this point:  that the capital difficulty of verse consisted in saying ordinary unemotional things, of bridging the flat intervals between high moments.  This point, I believe, we made effectively enough.

Now, for logical neatness, we should be able to oppose a corresponding point, that the capital difficulty of prose consists in saying extraordinary things, in running it up from its proper level to these high emotional, musical, moments.  And mightily convenient that would be, Gentlemen, if I were here to help you to answer scientific questions about prose and verse instead of helping you, in what small degree I can, to write.  But in Literature (which, let me remind you yet once again, is an art) you cannot classify as in a science.

Pray attend while I impress on you this most necessary warning.  In studying literature, and still more in studying to write it, distrust all classification!  All classifying of literature intrudes ‘science’ upon an art, and is artificially ‘scientific’; a trick of pedants, that they may make it the easier to examine you on things with which no man should have any earthly concern, as I am sure he will never have a heavenly one.  Beetles, minerals, gases, may be classified; and to have them classified is not

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On the Art of Writing from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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