The Man of Letters as a Man of Business eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 39 pages of information about The Man of Letters as a Man of Business.
tradesmen, and other flowers of our plutocracy on equal terms.  But, unfortunately, from a business point of view, he is also an artist, and the very qualities that enable him to delight the public disable him from delighting it uninterruptedly.  “No rose blooms right along,” as the English boys at Oxford made an American collegian say in a theme which they imagined for him in his national parlance; and the man of letters, as an artist, is apt to have times and seasons when he cannot blossom.  Very often it shall happen that his mind will lie fallow between novels or stories for weeks and months at a stretch; when the suggestions of the friendly editor shall fail to fruit in the essays or articles desired; when the muse shall altogether withhold herself, or shall respond only in a feeble dribble of verse which he might sell indeed, but which it would not be good business for him to put on the market.  But supposing him to be a very diligent and continuous worker, and so happy as to have fallen on a theme that delights him and bears him along, he may please himself so ill with the result of his labors that he can do nothing less in artistic conscience than destroy a day’s work, a week’s work, a month’s work.  I know one man of letters who wrote to-day and tore up tomorrow for nearly a whole summer.  But even if part of the mistaken work may be saved, because it is good work out of place, and not intrinsically bad, the task of reconstruction wants almost as much time as the production; and then, when all seems done, comes the anxious and endless process of revision.  These drawbacks reduce the earning capacity of what I may call the high-cost man of letters in such measure that an author whose name is known everywhere, and whose reputation is commensurate with the boundaries of his country, if it does not transcend them, shall have the income, say, of a rising young physician, known to a few people in a subordinate city.

In view of this fact, so humiliating to an author in the presence of a nation of business men like ours, I do not know that I can establish the man of letters in the popular esteem as very much of a business man, after all.  He must still have a low rank among practical people; and he will be regarded by the great mass of Americans as perhaps a little off, a little funny, a little soft!  Perhaps not; and yet I would rather not have a consensus of public opinion on the question; I think I am more comfortable without it.

III.

There is this to be said in defence of men of letters on the business side, that literature is still an infant industry with us, and, so far from having been protected by our laws, it was exposed for ninety years after the foundation of the republic to the vicious competition of stolen goods.  It is true that we now have the international copyright law at last, and we can at least begin to forget our shame; but literary property has only forty-two years of life

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The Man of Letters as a Man of Business from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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