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Authorship (from Thread of Gold)
by [?]

I found myself at dinner the other day next to an old friend, whom I see but seldom; a quiet, laborious, able man, with the charm of perfect modesty and candour, who, moreover, writes a very beautiful and lucid style. I said to him that I conceived it to be my mission, whenever I met him, to enquire what he was writing, and to beg him to write more. He said smilingly that he was very much occupied in his work, which is teaching, and found little time to write; “besides,” he said, “I think that one writes too much.” He went on to say that though he loved writing well enough when he was in the mood for it, yet that the labour of shaping sentences, and lifting them to their places, was very severe.

I felt myself a little rebuked by this, for I will here confess that writing is the one pleasure and preoccupation of my own life, though I do not publish a half of what I write. It set me wondering whether I did indeed write too much; and so I said to him: “You mean, I suppose, that one gets into the habit of serving up the same ideas over and over again, with a different sauce, perhaps; but still the same ideas?” “Yes,” he said, “that is what I mean. When I have written anything that I care about, I feel that I must wait a long time before the cistern fills again.”

We went on to talk of other things; but I have since been reflecting whether there is truth in what my friend said. If his view is true of writing, then it is surely the only art that is so hampered. We should never think that an artist worked too much; we might feel that he did not perhaps finish his big pictures sufficiently; but if he did not spare labour in finishing his pictures, we should never find fault with him for doing, say, as Turner did, and making endless studies and sketches, day after day, of all that struck him as being beautiful. We should feel indeed that some of these unconsidered and rapid sketches had a charm and a grace that the more elaborate pictures might miss; and in any case we should feel that the more that he worked, the firmer and easier would become his sweep of hand, the more deft his power of indicating a large effect by an economy of resource. The musician, too: no one would think of finding fault with him for working every day at his art; and it is the same with all craftsmen; the more they worked, the surer would their touch be.

Now I am inclined to believe that what makes writing good is not so much the pains taken with a particular piece of work, the retouching, the corrections, the dear delays. Still more fruitful than this labour is the labour spent on work that is never used, that never sees the light. Writing is to me the simplest and best pleasure in the world; the mere shaping of an idea in words is the occupation of all others I most love; indeed, to speak frankly, I plan and arrange all my days that I may secure a space for writing, not from a sense of duty, but merely from a sense of delight. The whole world teems with subjects and thoughts, sights of beauty and images of joy and sorrow, that I desire to put into words; and to forbid myself to write would be to exercise the strongest self-denial of which I am capable. Of course I do not mean that I can always please myself. I have piles of manuscripts laid aside which fail either in conception or expression, or in both. But there are a dozen books I would like to write if I had the time.