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Samuel Butler

Reading Books

Men of the quickest apprehensions, and aptest Geniuses to anything they undertake, do not always prove the greatest Masters in it. For there is more Patience and Flegme required in those that attaine to any Degree of Perfection, then is commonly found in the Temper of active, and ready wits, that soone tire and will not hold out; as the swiftest Race-horse will not perform a longe Jorney so well as a sturdy dull Jade. Hence it is that Virgil who wanted much of that Natural easines of wit that Ovid had, did nevertheless with hard Labour and long Study in the end arrive at a higher perfection then the other with all his Dexterity of wit, but less Industry could attaine to: The same we may observe of Johnson, and Shakespeare. For he that is able to thinke long and study well, wil be sure to finde out better things then an-other man can hit upon suddenly, though of more quick and ready Parts, which is commonly but chance, and the other Art and Judgment.

He that would write obscure to the People neede's write nothing but plaine Reason, and Sense, then which Nothing can be more Mysterious to them. For those to whom Mysterious things are plaine, plain Things must be mysterious.

They that write Plays in Rime tell us that the language of Comedie ought to be common Discourse, such as men speake in familiar conversation: as if verse were so.

Our moderne Authors write Playes as they feed hogs in Westphalia, where but one eate's pease, or akornes, and all the rest feed upon his and one anothers excrement. So the Spaniard first invents and Designes Play's, the French borrow it from them and the English from the French.

Some writers have the unhappines, or rather Prodigious Vanity to affect an obscurity in their Stiles, indevouring by all meanes not to be understood, but rather like witches to cast a mist before the eies of their Readers. These are Owles of Athens only in avoyding the Light; which they do, not so much in regard of the Profoundnes of what they deliver, which is commonly very vulgar and slight when it is understood, but appeare's very learned, when it is disguisd in darke and insignificant expressions. To write not to be understood is no less vaine then to speake not to be heard. Fooles and Madmen use to talke to themselves in Publique, and he that publishes that which he would have no Man understand but himself do's the same thing. These are like Citizens that commonly choose the Darkest streets to set up in, or make false lights that the Spots and Steines of their Stuffs may not be perceived. But they have another Marke at which this folly always aymes, and seldom misses of, the Admiration of the weake and Ignorant, who are apt to contemne whatsoever they can understand, and admire any thing that they cannot.

There is a kind of Physiognomy in the Titles of Bookes no less then in the faces of men by which a Skilful Observer will as well know what to expect from the one as the other.

There can be nothing obscure in any Booke but by the Ignorance of the writer or the Reader. And when many Readers of excellent and known abilities concur in the Ignorance of some obscure writer, it is easy to guess on which side the fault ly's. Things of the most pure and refin'd Nature, are always most obedient to light, as glass, and Diamonds; the later of which receives a great loss from the least cloud of Foulnes, and there is no reason why it should bee otherwise in mens reason and Sense.

My writings are not set of with the Ostentation of Prologue, Epilogue nor Preface, nor Sophisticated with Songs and Dances, nor Musique nor fine women between the Cantos; Nor have any thing to commend them but the Plaine Downrightnes of the Sense.

Those who write Bookes against one another, do but Play a Prize in Defaming one another, in which nothing is to be gotten by either of them but Infamy. For as to Fence with foyles (that can do no great hurt) is an Exercise for all men of ever so great Quality to Practice; So to play Prizes, is only fit for meane and inferior People to use, who expose themselves to blows and wounds, for the Sport of the Rabble, only to Purchace their Approbation of their Abilities and a little Interest in their ways, and among their Parties, with the expence of their Bloud and Sometime, Lives. Those who rayle at one another in Print, encounter like the Fight of Rams, whose Hornes are but Foyles, and Rbated. And that beast that tilts with greatest Force, gives as much of the Blow to himself, as he do's to his Enemy, and receives as much Hurt as he gives, if their Foreheads are equally Hard, which are the only woepons that are usd by both sides (men and Beasts), in those Rancounters, and the Hardest has always the Oddes.

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