We must accept life for what it actually is – a challenge to our quality without which we should never know of what stuff we are made, or grow to our full stature.
Robert Louis Stevenson
I am both surprised by Robert Louis Stevenson’s discussion of and strong opinions about compensation and its relevance to what a writer creates. Although written over twelve decades ago, I am refreshed by his insistence that a love of the craft come first.
Through this series that revisits 19th century authors, BriteLites invites discussion of topics that remain important to WordSmiths.
Excerpt 2 from Robert Louis Stevenson’s essay, “The Morality of The Profession of Letters,” first published in the Fortnightly Review, in 1881
The Morality of The Profession of Letters
The other day an author was complimented on a piece of work, good in itself and exceptionally good for him, and replied, in terms of unworthy of a commercial traveler, that as the book was not briskly selling he did not give a copper farthing for its merit.
It must not be supposed that the person to whom this answer was addressed received it as a profession of faith; he knew, on the other hand, that it was only a whiff of irritation; just as we know, when a respectable writer talks of literature as a way of life, like shoemaking, but not so useful, that he is only debating one aspect of a question, and is still clearly conscious of a dozen others more important in themselves and more central to the matter in hand.
But while those who treat literature in this penny-wise and virtue-foolish spirit are themselves truly in possession of a better light, it does not follow that the treatment is decent or improving, whether for themselves or others.
To treat all subjects in the highest, the most honorable, and the pluckiest spirit, consistent with the fact, is the first duty of a writer. If he be well paid, as I am glad to hear he is, this duty becomes the more urgent, the neglect of it the more disgraceful.
COMMENTS WELCOMED on $$ as first reason for writing.
Next week – R. L. Stevenson Part Three: Attitude is everything. As Stevenson wrote, It is to be hoped that a numerous and enterprising generation of writers will follow and surpass the present one.
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