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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Of the Qualities of the Writer
By Joseph Joubert (1754–1824)
 
Translation of Thomas Wentworth Higginson

NEVER write anything that does not give you enjoyment: emotion passes easily from the writer to the reader.  1
 
  The fine feelings and ideas that we wish to set forth in our writings should become familiar to us, in order that the ease and charm of intimacy be felt in their expression.  2
 
  All that we say should be suffused with ourselves, with our soul. This operation is long, but it immortalizes everything.  3
 
  The mind conceives with pain, but brings forth with delight.  4
 
  When writing we should recollect that scholars are present; but it is not to them that we should speak.  5
 
  An ordinary book needs only a subject; but for a fine work there is a germ which develops itself in the mind like a plant. The sole beautiful works are those that have been for a long while, if not worked over, at least meditated upon.  6
 
  Many useless phrases come into the head, but the mind grinds its colors out of them.  7
 
  In the mind of certain writers nothing is grouped or draped or modeled; their pages only offer a flat surface on which words roll.  8
 
  The end of a work should always suggest the beginning.  9
 
  There never was a literary age whose dominant taste was not unhealthy. The success of excellent authors consists in making wholesome works agreeable to morbid tastes.  10
 
  Taste is the literary conscience of the soul.  11
 
  When in any nation an individual is born who is capable of producing a great thought, another is born capable of comprehending it and admiring it.  12
 
  Beautiful works do not intoxicate, but enchant.  13
 
  It is not the opinions of authors, and that part of their teachings which we call assertions, that most instruct and nourish the mind. In great writers there is an invisible and subtle juice, imbibed in reading them,—an indescribable fluid, a salt, a principle more nutritive than all the rest.  14
 
  Between esteem and contempt, there is in literature a path which offers success without glory, and is also obtained without merit.  15
 
  It is worth a hundred times more to adapt a work to the nature of the human mind than to what is called the state of society. In man there is something immutable; thence it is that in the arts and works of art there are fixed rules,—beauties that will always please, or else contrivances that will please but for a short time.  16
 
  It is not enough to write so as to attract and hold attention: we must repay it.  17
 
  Does literary talent need to avail itself of passion? Yes, of manifold passion restrained.  18
 
  The extent of a palace is measured from east to west, or from north to south; but that of a literary work, from the earth to heaven: so that there may sometimes be found as much range and power of mind in a few pages—in an ode, for example—as in a whole epic poem.  19
 
  It is better to be exquisite than to be ample. Dealers respect big books, but readers prefer small ones,—they last longer and go farther. Virgil and Horace have left but one volume. Homer, Æschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Terence not more. Menander, who delights us, is reduced to a few leaves. Without Telemachus, who would know Fénelon? Who would know Bossuet without his Funeral Orations and his Discourse on Universal History? Pascal, La Bruyère, Vauvenargues, and La Rochefoucauld, Boileau, Racine, and La Fontaine, occupy little space, and are the delight of the cultivated. The best writers write little, because they need to reduce to beauty their abundance and wealth.  20
 
  Remember what St. Francis of Sales said in speaking of the ‘Imitation of Jesus Christ’: “I have sought repose everywhere, and have only found it in a small corner with a small book.” Happy the author who can supply the need.  21
 
  Force is not energy: some authors have more muscle than talent.  22
 
  Where there is no delicacy of touch, there is no literature.  23
 
  In literary work, fatigue is what gives to the writer warning of loss of power for the moment.  24
 
  Indolence as well as labor is sometimes needed by the mind.  25
 
  If a work shows the file, it is because it is not sufficiently polished; if it smells of the oil, it is because one has not sat up late enough over it [qu’on a trop peu veillé].  26
 
  What with the fever of the senses, the delirium of the heart, and the weakness of the mind; with the storms of time and the great trials of life; with hunger, thirst, dishonor, illness, and death,—one can construct any number of romances that will bring tears; but the soul says, “You do me harm!”  27
 
  It is not needful that love should be introduced into a book; but there should always be an impression of tenderness.  28
 
 
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