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Pains And Toils Of Authorship








The craft of authorship is by no means so easy of practice as is
generally imagined by the thousands who aspire to its practice. Almost
all our works, whether of knowledge or of fancy, have been the product
of much intellectual exertion and study; or, as it is better expressed
by the poet--

"the well-ripened fruits of wise decay."

Pope published nothing until it had been a year or two before him, and
even then his printer's proofs were very full of alterations; and, on
one occasion, Dodsley, his publisher, thought it better to have the
whole recomposed than make the necessary corrections. Goldsmith
considered four lines a day good work, and was seven years in beating
out the pure gold of the Deserted Village. Hume wrote his History of
England on a sofa, but he went quietly on correcting every edition till
his death. Robertson used to write out his sentences on small slips of
paper; and, after rounding them and polishing them to his satisfaction,
he entered them in a book, which, in its turn, underwent considerable
revision. Burke had all his principal works printed two or three times
at a private press before submitting them to his publisher. Akenside and
Gray were indefatigable correctors, labouring every line; and so was our
prolix and more imaginative poet, Thomson. On comparing the first and
latest editions of the Seasons, there will be found scarcely a page
which does not bear evidence of his taste and industry. Johnson thinks
the poems lost much of their raciness under this severe regimen, but
they were much improved in fancy and delicacy; the episode of Musidora,
"the solemnly ridiculous bathing scene," as Campbell terms it, was
almost entirely rewritten. Johnson and Gibbon were the least laborious
in arranging their copy for the press. Gibbon sent the first and only
MS. of his stupendous work (the Decline and Fall) to his printer; and
Johnson's high-sounding sentences were written almost without an effort.
Both, however, lived and moved, as it were, in the world of letters,
thinking or caring of little else--one in the heart of busy London,
which he dearly loved, and the other in his silent retreat at Lausanne.
Dryden wrote hurriedly, to provide for the day; but his Absalom and
Achitophel, and the beautiful imagery of the Hind and Panther, must
have been fostered with parental care. St. Pierre copied his Paul and
Virginia nine times, that he might render it the more perfect. Rousseau
was a very coxcomb in these matters: the amatory epistles, in his new
Heloise, he wrote on fine gilt-edged card-paper, and having folded,
addressed, and sealed them, he opened and read them in the solitary
woods of Clairens, with the mingled enthusiasm of an author and lover.
Sheridan watched long and anxiously for bright thoughts, as the MS. of
his School for Scandal, in its various stages, proves. Burns composed
in the open air, the sunnier the better; but he laboured hard, and with
almost unerring taste and judgment, in correcting.

Lord Byron was a rapid composer, but made abundant use of the
pruning-knife. On returning one of his proof sheets from Italy, he
expressed himself undecided about a single word, for which he wished to
substitute another, and requested Mr. Murray to refer it to Mr. Gifford,
then editor of the Quarterly Review. Sir Walter Scott evinced his love
of literary labour by undertaking the revision of the whole of the
Waverley Novels--a goodly freightage of some fifty or sixty volumes.
The works of Wordsworth, Southey, Coleridge, and Moore, and the occasional
variations in their different editions, mark their love of the touching.
Southey was, indeed, unwearied after his kind--a true author of the old
school. The bright thoughts of Campbell, which sparkle like polished
lances, were manufactured with almost equal care; he was the Pope of our
contemporary authors. Allan Cunningham corrected but little, yet his
imitations of the elder lyrics are perfect centos of Scottish feeling
and poesy. The loving, laborious lingering of Tennyson over his poems,
and the frequent alterations--not in every case improvements--that
appear in successive editions of his works, are familiar to all his
admirers.


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