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Mais: Essay Writing

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Edited by Maxwell Lewis Latham, Thursday, 11 Jul 2013, 02:08
...an English course without a word on... parsing, synecdoche...

...As Bacon says, "Some Bookes are to be Tasted, others to be Swallowed, and Some Few to be Chewed and Digested." Reading is as much a part of our... everyday life as eating, drinking and sleeping. We cannot exist without reading, anymore than we can exist without talking; We... learn that... contact with newspapers and magazines vitiates our taste, that to live on a diet of sensational novels destroys our capacity for thought, that indiscriminate reading is as much a vice as excessive drinking or over-feeding.

"I do not know that a well-informed man... is more worthy of regard than a well-fed one. The brain... is a nobler organ than the stomach, but on that very account is the less to be excused for indulging in repletion ... I believe, if the truth were known, men would be astonished at the small amount of learning with which a high degree of culture is compatible." (Rhoades)

...[W]e must indulge in [reading]... warily. "The first business of a learner in literature is to get [a] complete hold of some undeniable masterpiece and incorporate it, incarnate it." (“Q.”)

To saturate oneself with Hamlet, so that one becomes Hamlet in the reading of it, really to master the ninth book of Paradise Lost, "so as to rise to the height if its great argument and incorporate all its beauties in oneself," (Rhoades) to know Dr. Johnson more... than you will ever know your most intimate friend. ...

There are times when we are urgently desirous of inventing something, of giving expression to something which is ineffably precious to us, being, as it is, our real self, our individuality. In the bad old days we were regarded as priggish and egotistical if we ventured to express our own idiosyncrasies. But true delight in writing does not come from copying out... platitudes or extracts from articles in The Encyclopædia Brittanica: true delight springs from giving utterance to something which no one has given utterance to before...

[T]he formal composition of essays... with [a] neatly phrased introduction on what you are going to say, neatly paragraphed body of the essay divided into... [various sections] and lastly... [a] conclusion... a summing up and recapitulation of what you have said, adroitly rounded off...

Essay-writing is only one branch of writing... When you can be as entertaining as E.V. Lucas, Hilldare, Belloc, Charles Lamb and Addison you may concentrate on essays to the exclusion of all other forms of literary composition. Until then you would be well advised to... all forms of creative art, poetry, drama, short stories, novels, letters, parody, diaries, autobiography, biography... and so on. They are not harder; they are easier. ... Read Montaigne...

Show your friends your real self, how human in your weaknesses and sillinesses, how laughable in your foibles and follies, but how lovable in spite of your outward mask you are. To love any man you merely have to understand him. Even people whom you dislike on a first acquaintance frequently become firm friends when you know them better. Man always suspects what he does not understand...

...[T]hat enviable throng of people who live life to the full, the artists and creators, men and women who feel compelled to let loose the genius that is in them, rather than let it die of inanition and neglect. Men and women who strive to express most nobly and beautifully what they find most noble and beautiful in the world, some in colours, some in harmonies, some in song...

It isn't easy to say what you mean, but it is very much worth your while. The reading of great masterpieces will make you realise the value of clarity, sincerity, faithfulness... and all the other points that characterise good writing. By steeping yourself in the work of a skilful craftsman you will be preparing yourself to become a skilled workman, just as you play Rugger or Cricket much better after coming back from watching a match at Blackheath or Lords...

Mais, S.P.B. (1938) An English Course..., Richards Press, London, pp.9-12.

Max.
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