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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On Authorship
By Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860)
 
Translation of Thomas Bailey Saunders

THERE are, first of all, two kinds of authors: those who write for the subject’s sake, and those who write for writing’s sake. While the one have had thoughts or experiences which seem to them worth communicating, the others want money; and so they write—for money. Their thinking is part of the business of writing. They may be recognized by the way in which they spin out their thoughts to the greatest possible length; then too, by the very nature of their thoughts, which are only half true, perverse, forced, vacillating; again, by the aversion they generally show to saying anything straight out, so that they may seem other than they are. Hence their writing is deficient in clearness and definiteness, and it is not long before they betray that their only object in writing at all is to cover paper. This sometimes happens with the best authors; now and then, for example, with Lessing in his ‘Dramaturgie,’ and even in many of Jean Paul’s romances. As soon as the reader perceives this, let him throw the book away; for time is precious. The truth is that when an author begins to write for the sake of covering paper, he is cheating the reader; because he writes under the pretext that he has something to say.  1
  Writing for money and reservation of copyright are at bottom the ruin of literature. No one writes anything that is worth writing, unless he writes entirely for the sake of his subject. What an inestimable boon it would be, if in every branch of literature there were only a few books, but those excellent! This can never happen as long as money is to be made by writing. It seems as though the money lay under a curse; for every author degenerates as soon as he begins to put pen to paper in any way for the sake of gain. The best works of the greatest men all come from the time when they had to write for nothing or for very little. And here too that Spanish proverb holds good, which declares that honor and money are not to be found in the same purse,—“Honra y provecho no caben en un saco.” The reason why literature is in such a bad plight nowadays is simply and solely that people write books to make money. A man who is in want sits down and writes a book, and the public is stupid enough to buy it. The secondary effect of this is the ruin of language.  2
  A great many bad writers make their whole living by that foolish mania of the public for reading nothing but what has just been printed,—journalists, I mean. Truly, a most appropriate name. In plain language it is journeymen, day-laborers!  3
  Again, it may be said that there are three kinds of authors. First come those who write without thinking. They write from a full memory, from reminiscences; it may be, even straight out of other people’s books. This class is the most numerous. Then come those who do their thinking whilst they are writing,—they think in order to write; and there is no lack of them. Last of all come those authors who think before they begin to write: they are rare.  4
  Authors of the second class, who put off their thinking until they come to write, are like a sportsman who goes forth at random and is not likely to bring very much home. On the other hand, when an author of the third or rare class writes, it is like a battue. Here the game has been previously captured and shut up within a very small space; from which it is afterwards let out, so many at a time, into another space, also confined. The game cannot possibly escape the sportsman; he has nothing to do but aim and fire,—in other words, write down his thoughts. This is a kind of sport from which a man has something to show.  5
  But even though the number of those who really think seriously before they begin to write is small, extremely few of them think about the subject itself: the remainder think only about the books that have been written on the subject, and what has been said by others. In order to think at all, such writers need the more direct and powerful stimulus of having other people’s thoughts before them. These become their immediate theme; and the result is that they are always under their influence, and so never, in any real sense of the word, original. But the former are roused to thought by the subject itself, to which their thinking is thus immediately directed. This is the only class that produces writers of abiding fame.  6
  It must of course be understood that I am speaking here of writers who treat of great subjects; not of writers on the art of making brandy.  7
  Unless an author takes the material on which he writes out of his own head,—that is to say, from his own observation,—he is not worth reading. Book manufacturers, compilers, the common run of history writers, and many others of the same class, take their material immediately out of books; and the material goes straight to their finger-tips without even paying freight or undergoing examination as it passes through their heads, to say nothing of elaboration or revision. How very learned many a man would be if he knew everything that was in his own books! The consequence of this is, that these writers talk in such a loose and vague manner that the reader puzzles his brains in vain to understand what it is of which they are really thinking. They are thinking of nothing. It may now and then be the case that the book from which they copy has been composed exactly in the same way; so that writing of this sort is like a plaster cast of a cast, and in the end the bare outline of the face—and that too hardly recognizable—is all that is left of your Antinoüs. Let compilations be read as seldom as possible. It is difficult to avoid them altogether, since compilations also include those textbooks which contain in a small space the accumulated knowledge of centuries.  8
  There is no greater mistake than to suppose that the last work is always the more correct; that what is written later on is in every case an improvement on what was written before; and that change always means progress. Real thinkers, men of right judgment, people who are in earnest with their subject,—these are all exceptions only. Vermin is the rule everywhere in the world: it is always on the alert, taking the mature opinions of the thinkers, and industriously seeking to improve upon them (save the mark!) in its own peculiar way.  9
  If the reader wishes to study any subject, let him beware of rushing to the newest books upon it, and confining his attention to them alone, under the notion that science is always advancing, and that the old books have been drawn upon in the writing of the new. They have been drawn upon, it is true; but how? The writer of the new book often does not understand the old books thoroughly, and yet he is unwilling to take their exact words; so he bungles them, and says in his own bad way that which has been said very much better and more clearly by the old writers who wrote from their own lively knowledge of the subject. The new writer frequently omits the best things they say, their most striking illustrations, their happiest remarks, because he does not see their value or feel how pregnant they are. The only thing that appeals to him is what is shallow and insipid.  10
 
 
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