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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Mariano José de Larra (1809–1837)

Joys of Journalism

From “The Articles”

“AT last I am a journalist!” I exclaimed enthusiastically, and immediately began to conceive articles, fully determined to grind in the mortar of my criticism any writer who might be unfortunate enough to invade the territory covered by my jurisdiction. Fool that I was! I shall recount briefly my experiences, without, however, revealing the secret springs that set in motion the complicated machinery of a magazine, or lifting the veil of prestige that drapes its altars. My story is unexaggerated and impartial, and I leave the reader to judge if it be not preferable to subscribe to a periodical than to be obliged wisely and hurriedly to provide reading matter for it.

“Mr. Figaro,” says the editor, “let us have an article on the stage, if you please.”

Now, be it understood that I write for the public, and the public, it seems to me, deserves the truth. The comedy in question is ridiculous. The actor, A, is bad, and the actress, B, is worse. Great heavens! It never would have occurred to me to choose the stage as my subject. What is to be done when the author of a comedy pronounces it excellent and the critic acephalous? The actors will use bad language, the author’s future plays will be refused, and every one will be disgusted. Who is this critic, anyhow? An incompetent, a pedant, a rascal! And all this obloquy falls on the unlucky head of the poor friend of beauty and of truth.

Oh, the joys of journalism!

I fly precipitately from the stage to literature. A presumptuous individual has just published a quite indigestible work. “Sir,” he begins a seductive letter, “I confide in your talent and in your friendship for myself, of which I have ample proof (which unfortunately is quite true), that you will honor my work with a just and impartial criticism (by impartial he means favorable), and I hope that you will do me the honor to dine with me, in order that we may together discuss certain ideas that might be touched upon etc.”

Ignore these insinuations, and you will have to choose between ingratitude and falsehood. Both vices have their stern detractors, and the wrath of at least one of them will be vented on the unlucky Figaro.

Oh, the joys of journalism!

I will translate foreign news, then. I sharpen my pen, arrange a vast pile of periodicals, and set to work. Three columns are soon written. Three columns, did I say? On the following day I look for them in the Review, but in vain.

“Mr. Editor, what has been done with my copy?”

“None of your business!” he replies. “Here it is. We haven’t been able to use it. This piece is not suitable; that over there is out of date; the other is good, but badly translated.”

“But remember that one must do this work for hours at a time, and a man gets tired!” I explain.

“If you are the sort of man who gets tired, you are no use for newspaper work.”

“But my head aches already.”

“The head of a good journalist never aches.”

Oh, the joys of journalism!

Away with trifles, then. It seems that I am cut out for sterner stuff. I will write a profound and instructive article—on political economy, for instance.

“A fine article,” the editor tells me, “but don’t write any more like it.”

“Why not?”

“Because it will ruin my magazine. Who do you think will read it, if it is not jocular, malicious, or superficial? Besides, it takes up five columns—all that I have left. No, Mr. Figaro, let us have no more scientific articles. You are wasting your time.”

Oh, the joys of journalism!

“Now, I wish you would revise these articles that have been sent in, especially those dealing with poetical subjects.”

“Yes, Mr. Editor, but I shall have to read them.”

“Certainly, Mr. Figaro.”

“Very good, Mr. Editor, but I would much rather recite the whole of the Litany fifty times.”

“Mr. Figaro!”

Oh, the joys of journalism!

Politics and more politics. What else is left to me? It is true that I do not know anything about it, but what difference will that make? Shall I be the first to write ignorantly on politics? I set to work, then, and string together a batch of words such as these: conferences, protocols, rights, representation, monarchy, legality, cabinets, courts, centralization, nations, happiness, peace, illusions, treason, war, inexpedience, belligerents, armistice, forces, unity, governments, maxims, systems, disquisitions, revolution, order, center, left, modification, bill, reforms, etc. I write my article, but, merciful heavens! the editor sends for me.

“Mr. Figaro, you are evidently trying to compromise me with the ideas propounded in this article.”

“I propound ideas, Mr. Editor? If so, I did not know it. What reason could I have for such a thing?”

“You had better take care.”

“Pardon me, but I did not believe my political system was so—” I paused to think of an appropriate word.

“Because, if any harm should result, you will be responsible.”

“I, Mr. Editor?”

Oh, the joys of journalism!

If this were only all for which poor Figaro stands responsible, it would not be so bad. Even if the author were not mediocre, nor the actor offended, nor the article displeasing, some confounded imp of a printer would be sure to make some silly mistake in spelling. And then who would be responsible? Figaro, of course! It is probable that I shall soon be obliged to print my own articles.

Oh, the joys of journalism!

And to think that I once cherished a desire to enter the journalistic field! I confess to you, dear reader, that I have a weak character, and never knew what I wanted. And this you may judge from the long list of my unfortunate writings, which, however, I shall do my best to abridge, henceforth, as much as I can.

Oh, the joys of journalism!