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A Preface To The Profession Of Journalism
by [?]

The first and most necessary equipment of any writer, be he reporter, advertising copy-man, poet, or historian, is swift, lively, accurate observation. And since consciousness is a rapid, shallow river which we can only rarely dam up deep enough to go swimming and take our ease, it is his positive need (unless he is a genius who can afford to let drift away much of his only source of gold) to keep a note-book handy for the sieving and skimming of this running stream. Samuel Butler has good advice on this topic. Of ideas, he says, you must throw salt on their tails or they fly away and you never see their bright plumage again. Poems, stories, epigrams, all the happiest freaks of the mind, flit by on wings and at haphazard instants. They must be caught in air. In this respect one thinks American writers ought to have an advantage over English, for American trousers are made with hip-pockets, in which a small note-book may so comfortably caress the natural curvature of man.

Fancy is engendered in the eyes, said Shakespeare, and is with gazing fed. By fancy he meant (I suppose) love; but imagination is also so engendered. Close, constant, vivid, and compassionate gazing at the ways of mankind is the laboratory manual of literature. But for most of us we may gaze until our eyeballs twitch with weariness; unless we seize and hold the flying picture in some steadfast memorandum, the greater part of our experience dissolves away with time. If a man has thought sufficiently about the arduous and variously rewarded profession of literature to propose seriously to follow it for a living, he will already have said these things to himself, with more force and pungency. He may have satisfied himself that he has a necessary desire for “self-expression,” which is a parlous state indeed, and the cause of much literary villainy. The truly great writer is more likely to write in the hope of expressing the hearts of others than his own. And there are other desires, too, most legitimate, that he may feel. An English humorist said recently in the preface to his book: “I wrote these stories to satisfy an inward craving–not for artistic expression, but for food and drink.” But I cannot conscientiously advise any man to turn to writing merely as a means of earning his victual unless he should, by some cheerful casualty, stumble upon a trick of the You-know-me-Alfred sort, what one might call the Attabuoyant style. If all you want is a suggestion as to some honest way of growing rich, the doughnut industry is not yet overcrowded; and people will stand in line to pay twenty-two cents for a dab of ice-cream smeared with a trickle of syrup.

To the man who approaches writing with some decent tincture of idealism it is well to say that he proposes to use as a trade what is, at its best and happiest, an art and a recreation. He proposes to sell his mental reactions to the helpless public, and he proposes not only to enjoy himself by so doing, but to be handsomely recompensed withal. He cannot complain that in days when both honesty and delicacy of mind are none too common we ask him to bring to his task the humility of the tradesman, the joy of the sportsman, the conscience of the artist.

And if he does so, he will be in a condition to profit by these fine words of George Santayana, said of the poet, but applicable to workers in every branch of literature:

“He labours with his nameless burden of perception, and wastes himself in aimless impulses of emotion and reverie, until finally the method of some art offers a vent to his inspiration, or to such part of it as can survive the test of time and the discipline of expression…. Wealth of sensation and freedom of fancy, which make an extraordinary ferment in his ignorant heart, presently bubble over into some kind of utterance.”