Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
Literature as a Vocation
By Horace Greeley (1811–1872)
 
[From Reforms and Reformers.—Recollections of a Busy Life. 1868.]

LITERATURE is a noble calling, but only when the call obeyed by the aspirant issues from a world to be enlightened and blessed, not from a void stomach clamoring to be gratified and filled. Authorship is a royal priesthood; but woe to him who rashly lays unhallowed hands on the ark or the altar, professing a zeal for the welfare of the Race only that he may secure the confidence and sympathies of others, and use them for his own selfish ends! If a man have no heroism in his soul,—no animating purpose beyond living easily and faring sumptuously,—I can imagine no greater mistake on his part than that of resorting to authorship as a vocation. That such a one may achieve what he regards as success, I do not deny; but, if so, he does it at greater risk and by greater exertion than would have been required to win it in any other pursuit. No: It cannot be wise in a selfish, or sordid, or sensual man to devote himself to Literature; the fearful self-exposure incident to this way of life,—the dire necessity which constrains the author to stamp his own essential portrait on every volume of his works, no matter how carefully he may fancy he has erased, or how artfully he may suppose he has concealed it,—this should repel from the vestibule of the temple of Fame the foot of every profane or mocking worshipper. But if you are sure that your impulse is not personal nor sinister, but a desire to serve and ennoble your Race, rather than to dazzle and be served by it; that you are ready joyfully to “shun delights, and live laborious days,” so that thereby the well-being of mankind may be promoted,—then I pray you not to believe that the world is too wise to need further enlightenment, nor that it would be impossible for one so humble as yourself to say aught whereby error may be dispelled or good be diffused. Sell not your integrity; barter not your independence; beg of no man the privilege of earning a livelihood by Authorship; since that is to degrade your faculty, and very probably to corrupt it; but seeing through your own clear eyes, and uttering the impulses of your own honest heart, speak or write as truth and love shall dictate, asking no material recompense, but living by the labor of your hands, until recompense shall be voluntarily tendered to secure your service, and you may frankly accept it without a compromise of your integrity or a peril to your freedom. Soldier in the long warfare for Man’s rescue from Darkness and Evil, choose not your place on the battle-field, but joyfully accept that assigned you; asking not whether there be higher or lower, but only whether it is here that you can most surely do your proper work, and meet your full share of the responsibility and the danger. Believe not that the Heroic Age is no more; since to that age is only requisite the heroic purpose and the heroic soul. So long as ignorance and evil shall exist, so long there will be work for the devoted, and so long will there be room in the ranks of those who, defying obloquy, misapprehension, bigotry, and interested craft, struggle and dare for the redemption of the world. “Of making many books there is no end,” though there is happily a speedy end of most books after they are made; but he who by voice or pen strikes his best blow at the impostures and vices whereby our race is debased and paralyzed may close his eyes in death, consoled and cheered by the reflection that he has done what he could for the emancipation and elevation of his kind.
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