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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Review Writing
By Walter Bagehot (1826–1877)
 
From ‘The First Edinburgh Reviewers’

REVIEW writing exemplifies the casual character of modern literature: everything about it is temporary and fragmentary. Look at a railway stall: you see books of every color,—blue, yellow, crimson, “ring-streaked, speckled, and spotted,”—on every subject, in every style, of every opinion, with every conceivable difference, celestial or sublunary, maleficent, beneficent—but all small. People take their literature in morsels, as they take sandwiches on a journey….  1
  And the change in appearance of books has been accompanied—has been caused—by a similar change in readers. What a transition from the student of former ages! from a grave man with grave cheeks and a considerate eye, who spends his life in study, has no interest in the outward world, hears nothing of its din and cares nothing for its honors, who would gladly learn and gladly teach, whose whole soul is taken up with a few books of ‘Aristotle and his Philosophy,’—to the merchant in the railway, with a head full of sums, an idea that tallow is “up,” a conviction that teas are “lively,” and a mind reverting perpetually from the little volume which he reads to these mundane topics, to the railway, to the shares, to the buying and bargaining universe. We must not wonder that the outside of books is so different, when the inner nature of those for whom they are written is so changed.  2
  In this transition from ancient writing to modern, the review-like essay and the essay-like review fill a large space. Their small bulk, their slight pretension to systematic completeness,—their avowal, it might be said, of necessary incompleteness,—the facility of changing the subject, of selecting points to attack, of exposing only the best corner for defense, are great temptations. Still greater is the advantage of “our limits.” A real reviewer always spends his first and best pages on the parts of a subject on which he wishes to write, the easy comfortable parts which he knows. The formidable difficulties which he acknowledges, you foresee by a strange fatality that he will only reach two pages before the end; to his great grief, there is no opportunity for discussing them. As a young gentleman at the India House examination wrote “Time up” on nine unfinished papers in succession, so you may occasionally read a whole review, in every article of which the principal difficulty of each successive question is about to be reached at the conclusion. Nor can any one deny that this is the suitable skill, the judicious custom of the craft.  3
 
 
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