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No. 124 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 124.
Monday, July 23, 1711.

[Greek (transliterated): Mega Biblion, mega kakon.]

A Man who publishes his Works in a Volume, has an infinite Advantage over one who communicates his Writings to the World in loose Tracts and single Pieces. We do not expect to meet with any thing in a bulky Volume, till after some heavy Preamble, and several Words of Course, to prepare the Reader for what follows: Nay, Authors have established it as a kind of Rule, that a Man ought to be dull sometimes; as the most severe Reader makes Allowances for many Rests and Nodding-places in a Voluminous Writer. This gave Occasion to the famous Greek Proverb which I have chosen for my Motto, That a great Book is a great Evil.

On the contrary, those who publish their Thoughts in distinct Sheets, and as it were by Piece-meal, have none of these Advantages. We must immediately fall into our Subject, and treat every Part of it in a lively Manner, or our Papers are thrown by as dull and insipid: Our Matter must lie close together, and either be wholly new in itself, or in the Turn it receives from our Expressions. Were the Books of our best Authors thus to be retailed to the Publick, and every Page submitted to the Taste of forty or fifty thousand Readers, I am afraid we should complain of many flat Expressions, trivial Observations, beaten Topicks, and common Thoughts, which go off very well in the Lump. At the same Time, notwithstanding some Papers may be made up of broken Hints and irregular Sketches, it is often expected that every Sheet should be a kind of Treatise, and make out in Thought what it wants in Bulk: That a Point of Humour should be worked up in all its Parts; and a Subject touched upon in its most essential Articles, without the Repetitions, Tautologies and Enlargements, that are indulged to longer Labours. The ordinary Writers of Morality prescribe to their Readers after the Galenick way; their Medicines are made up in large Quantities. An Essay-Writer must practise in the Chymical Method, and give the Virtue of a full Draught in a few Drops. Were all Books reduced thus to their Quintessence, many a bulky Author would make his Appearance in a Penny-Paper: There would be scarce such a thing in Nature as a Folio. The Works of an Age would be contained on a few Shelves; not to mention millions of Volumes that would be utterly annihilated.

I cannot think that the Difficulty of furnishing out separate Papers of this Nature, has hindered Authors from communicating their Thoughts to the World after such a Manner: Though I must confess I am amazed that the Press should be only made use of in this Way by News-Writers, and the Zealots of Parties; as if it were not more advantageous to Mankind, to be instructed in Wisdom and Virtue, than in Politicks; and to be made good Fathers, Husbands and Sons, than Counsellors and Statesmen. Had the Philosophers and great Men of Antiquity, who took so much Pains in order to instruct Mankind, and leave the World wiser and better than they found it; had they, I say, been possessed of the Art of Printing, there is no question but they would have made such an Advantage of it, in dealing out their Lectures to the Publick. Our common Prints would be of great Use were they thus calculated to diffuse good Sense through the Bulk of a People, to clear up their Understandings, animate their Minds with Virtue, dissipate the Sorrows of a heavy Heart, or unbend the Mind from its more severe Employments with innocent Amusements. When Knowledge, instead of being bound up in Books and kept in Libraries and Retirements, is thus obtruded upon the Publick; when it is canvassed in every Assembly, and exposed upon every Table, I cannot forbear reflecting upon that Passage in the Proverbs: Wisdom crieth without, she uttereth her Voice in the Streets: she crieth in the chief Place of Concourse, in the Openings of the Gates. In the City she uttereth her Words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love Simplicity? and the Scorners delight in their Scorning? and Fools hate Knowledge? [1]