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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Letter to Vitry
By Mirabeau (1749–1791)
 
YOU know the plan of the journal I purpose establishing, but others will not understand it. It is to be founded upon the idea—novel perhaps, and which in my opinion is not without its usefulness—of noticing old books, as the ordinary journals notice new ones. To abridge and select is now, assuredly, the most urgent want of science and letters. To preserve is of a usefulness less direct, perhaps, or rather less abundant. Nevertheless, in proportion as taste and erudition pass away; in proportion as the mania of writing becomes more contagious; in proportion to the ardor in publishing, the haste with which books are published, the mania or necessity of sacrificing to the taste of the day, to the coryphei of the times, to the pretension of being free from prejudice—which, in point of fact, is scarcely anything better than substituting one prejudice for another;—in proportion, I say, as all these diseases gain upon us, and increase, do we too much neglect the exertions of our predecessors, who, although it should be true that we surpass them in the talent of bringing out, ought not the less to attract our attention, in order that we may set in an elegant framework that which they have clumsily enchased. I say then that this article will yield something; and I invoke your researches in the works of our philologers of the sixteenth century, our learned of the seventeenth, our collections and our compilations of all ages, but that in which no books were made except with stolen fragments, well or ill-stitched together, no tragedies except with old hemistichs.  1
  You know that another of my projects is to give in successive parts a work on the academic collections, more especially that entitled ‘Memoirs of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-lettres.’ My plan here is to take the interesting papers of the collection, and unite them by amalgamating and blending them together, by clearing and pruning, and criticizing them one by another; and to draw from this chaos all that is worthy of the attention of philosophers, men of letters, and men of the world, without crushing them by the weight of a fastidious erudition. This is an undertaking the want of which is generally felt, and its utility incontestable.  2
  I intend to include speculative politics, finance, etc.; and the little I shall take from recent literature is my own affair. I say “speculative politics” because, although I may be strongly solicited, I will never write what Linguet so ridiculously calls “annals.” The trade of a hussar no longer suits me. It is not, even in this application, compatible with self-respect; for is there not great rashness in giving intelligence of what passes at a distance, and passing judgment upon it, whilst daily experience shows how difficult it is to obtain information of what is passing close to us?  3
  The art of printing has so greatly facilitated the means of instruction that science has become a very common commodity. But the mind of man may be improved ad infinitum. To render the road to improvement easier, and to make the human intellect advance with rapid strides in its progress of discovery,—to engender new ideas, and make our exertions more fruitful,—a mode is wanting to abridge study and avoid repetitions; placing the studious man, especially the man of genius, at the point whence he is to start. If, for instance, he who appeared desirous of seeking new discoveries were to spend his time in studying the Epicycles of Ptolemy, or the Vortices of Descartes, he should be spoken to in the following words: “This is the point we have reached: Kepler, Newton, Claireau, Euler, etc., have guessed, demonstrated, and investigated this branch of science; and it is from the point of their discoveries that you must try to advance.” Is this not the case with all sciences?  4
 
 
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