Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
The Pains and Pleasures of Authorship
By James Boswell (17401795)
From Preface to Account of Corsica
WRITING a book I have found to be like building a house. A man forms a plan and collects materials. He thinks he has enough to raise a large and stately edifice; but after he has arranged, compacted, and polished, his work turns out to be a very small performance. The authour, however, like the builder, knows how much labour his work cost him, and therefore estimates it at a much higher rate than other people think it deserves.
I have endeavoured to avoid an ostentatious display of learning. By the idle and frivolous, indeed, any appearance of learning is called pedantry. But as I do not write for such readers, I pay no regard to their censures. Those by whom I wish to be judged will, I hope, approve of my adding dignity to Corsica by showing its consideration among the ancients, and will not be displeased to find my page sometimes embellished with a seasonable quotation from the classicks. The translations are ascribed to their proper authours. What are not so ascribed are my own.
It may be necessary to say something in defence of my orthography. Of late it has become the fashion to render our language more neat and trim by leaving out k after c, and u in the last syllable of words which used to end in our. The illustrious Samuel Johnson, who has alone executed in England what was the task of whole academies in other countries, has been careful in his Dictionary to preserve the k as a mark of Saxon original. He has for the most part, too, been careful to preserve the u, but he has also omitted it in several words. I have retained the k, and have taken upon me to follow a general rule with regard to words ending in our. Wherever a word originally Latin has been transmitted to us through the medium of the French, I have written it with the characteristical u. An attention to this may appear trivial. But I own I am one of those who are curious in the formation of language in its various modes, and therefore wish that the affinity of English with other tongues may not be forgotten. If this work should at any future period be reprinted, I hope that care will be taken of my orthography.
He who publishes a book, affecting not to be an authour, and professing indifference for literary fame, may possibly impose upon many people such an idea of his consequence as he wishes may be received. For my part, I should be proud to be known as an authour, and I have an ardent ambition for literary fame; for of all possessions I should imagine literary fame to be the most valuable. A man who has been able to furnish a book which has been approved by the world, has established himself as a respectable character in distant society, without any danger of having that character lessened by the observation of his weaknesses. To preserve an uniform dignity among those who see us every day is hardly possible; and to aim at it must put us under the fetters of perpetual restraint. The authour of an approved book may allow his natural disposition an easy play, and yet indulge the pride of superior genius when he considers that by those who know him only as an authour he never ceases to be respected. Such an authour, when in his hours of gloom and discontent, may have the consolation to think that his writings are at that very time giving pleasure to numbers; and such an authour may cherish the hope of being remembered after death, which has been a great object to the noblest minds in all ages.