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William Makepeace Thackeray

Reading Books

... The humorous writer professes to awaken and direct your love, your pity, your kindness your scorn for untruth, pretension, imposture your tenderness for the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the unhappy. To the best of his means and ability he comments on all the ordinary actions and passions of life. He takes upon himself to be the week-day preacher, so to speak. Accordingly, as he finds, and speaks, and feels the truth best, we regard him, esteem him sometimes love him. And, as his business is to mark other people's lives and peculiarities, we moralize upon his life when he is gone and yesterday's preacher becomes the text for today's sermon.

Among the sins of commission which novel-writers not seldom perpetrate, is the sin of grandiloquence, or tall talking, against which, for my part, I will offer up a special libera me. This is the sin of schoolmasters, governesses, critics, sermoners, and instructors of young or old people. Nay (for I am making a clean breast, and liberating my soul), perhaps of all the novel-spinners now extant the present speaker is the most addicted' to preaching. Does he not stop perpetually in his story and begin to preach to you? When he ought to be engaged with business, is he not for ever taking the Muse by the sleeve, and plaguing her with some of his cynical sermons? I cry peccavi loudly and heartily. I tell you I would like to be able to write a story which should show no egotism whatever in which there should be no reflections, no cynicism, no vulgarity (and so forth), but an incident in every other page, a villain, a battle, a mystery in every chapter. I should like to be able to feed a reader so spicily as to leave him hungering and thirsting for more at the end of every monthly meal.

In a pretty large experience I have not found the men who write books superior in wit or learning to those who don't write at all. In regard of mere information, non-writers must often be superior to writers. You don't expect a lawyer in full practice to be conversant with all kinds of literature; he is too busy with his law; and so a writer is commonly too busy with his own books to be able to bestow attention on the works of other people.

Have you read David Copperfield, by the way? How beautiful it is - how charmingly fresh and simple! In those admirable touches of tender humor and I should call humor a mixture of love and wit who can equal this great genius? There are little words and phrases in his books which are like personal benefits to the reader. What a place it is to hold in the affections of men! What an awful responsibility hanging over a writer! What man holding such a place, and knowing that his words go forth to vast congregations of man-kind, to grown folks to their children, and perhaps to their children's children, but must think of his calling with a solemn and humble heart! May love and truth guide such a man always! It is an awful prayer; may Heaven further its fulfilment!

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