Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  The Griefs of Authors

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Griefs of Authors

By James Ralph (d. 1762)

[The Case of Authors by Profession or Trade Stated. 1758.]

THERE is hardly a page in the annals of the world which does not seem to show, that Wit and Money have been always at war, and always treated one another with reciprocal contempt.

Perhaps for this only reason, that the man of money could acquire everything but ideas, and the man of wits—ideas could never acquire him money.

But, whatever the cause may be, such is the fact; and, as if the bulk of mankind derived some kind of gratification from the quarrel, they have each in his way contributed all they could to render it perpetual.

Thus, a man may plead for money, prescribe or quack for money, preach and pray for money, marry for money, fight for money, do anything within the law for money, provided the expedient answers, without any the least imputation.

But if he writes like one inspired from heaven, and writes for money, the man of touch, in the right of Midas his great ancestor, enters his caveat against him as a man of taste; declares the two provinces to be incompatible; that he who aims at praise ought to be starved; and that there ought to be so much drawback upon character for every acquisition in coin….

And yet the art of writing is as much an art, as the art of painting or the art of war. The pen, as a tool, is of as much importance, at least, as the pencil; and, as a weapon offensive or defensive, has its power, and can do some sort of execution, as well as a sword….

Supposing the writer by trade and the volunteer to have equal abilities and equal accomplishments, the former, as the current of the times now sets, has the best chance to be the best writer of the two.

And first, I make a difference in times, for this reason,—Bacon, etc., were always in action; and, when out of place, had always the pen in their hands; consequently, were habitual writers, or possessed of all the advantages that a habit of writing could give them.

But the volunteer-writers of our times are holiday-writers indeed. That is to say,—they write just enough to show they can read, and, having so done, throw away the pen. Whereas, by the very malice of his stars, the writer by trade is forever obliged to write on; and thereby obtains that mastery in matter, method, style and manner, which is hardly to be obtained in any other way.