Tuesday, April 02, 2013


No Original Thought or Fresh Fact

Sir Herbert Maxwell (1845-1937), Rainy Days in a Library (London: Elliot Stock, 1896), pp. 64-65:
To this day, ninety-nine out of every hundred new books may be set down as containing no original thought or fresh fact; all their matter has been printed over and over again in different forms. But modern readers have a distaste for obvious compilation; writers are expected to throw a semblance of originality over the stale ideas, and give them the guise of independent observation, much as a skilful cook knows how to produce dainty dishes out of yesterday's joints. But until the close of the seventeenth century it was otherwise. The press gave birth to huge folios and quartos, crammed by scholars with information already stored in the folios and quartos of their predecessors. Everyone who has idled his morning away in the library of some old country-house must be familiar with this class of work—must have marvelled at the excruciating assiduity with which such volumes have been compiled, have wondered how in the world our ancestors ever could afford to buy them in days when cash was notoriously scarce, and what satisfaction they could derive from them when bought.

Édouard Manet (1832-1883), The Reader

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