Sunday, June 12, 2016


Ungrateful Readers

Thomas More (1478-1535), preface to Utopia, in the form of a letter to Peter Gilles (tr. Paul Turner):
To tell you the truth, though, I still haven't made up my mind whether I shall publish it at all. Tastes differ so widely, and some people are so humourless, so uncharitable, and so absurdly wrong-headed, that one would probably do far better to relax and enjoy life than worry oneself to death trying to instruct or entertain a public which will only despise one's efforts, or at least feel no gratitude for them. Most readers know nothing about literature — many regard it with contempt. Lowbrows find everything heavy going that isn't completely lowbrow. Highbrows reject everything as vulgar that isn't a mass of archaisms. Some only like the classics, others only their own works. Some are so grimly serious that they disapprove of all humour, others so half-witted that they can't stand wit. Some are so literal-minded that the slightest hint of irony affects them as water affects a sufferer from hydrophobia. Others come to different conclusions every time they stand up or sit down. Then there's the alcoholic school of critics, who sit in public houses, pronouncing ex cathedra verdicts of condemnation, just as they think fit. They seize upon your publications, as a wrestler seizes upon his opponent's hair, and use them to drag you down, while they themselves remain quite invulnerable, because their barren pates are completely bald — so there's nothing for you to get hold of.

Besides, some readers are so ungrateful that, even if they enjoy a book immensely, they don't feel any affection for the author. They're like rude guests who after a splendid dinner-party go home stuffed with food, without saying a word of thanks to their host. So much for the wisdom of preparing a feast of reason at one's own expense for a public with such fastidious and unpredictable tastes, and with such a profound sense of gratitude!

Quamquam, ut vere dicam, nec ipse mecum satis adhuc constitui, an sim omnino editurus. Etenim tam varia sunt palata mortalium, tam morosa quorundam ingenia, tam ingrati animi, tam absurda iudicia, ut cum his haud paulo felicius agi videatur, qui iucundi atque hilares genio indulgent suo, quam qui semet macerant curis, ut edant aliquid, quod aliis aut fastidientibus aut ingratis vel utilitati possit esse vel voluptati. Plurimi litteras nesciunt, multi contemnunt; barbarus ut durum reicit, quidquid non est plane barbarum; scioli aspernantur ut triviale, quidquid obsoletis verbis non scatet; quibusdam solum placent vetera, plerisque tantum sua. Hic tam taetricus est, ut non admittat iocos, hic tam insulsus, ut non ferat sales; tam simi quidam sunt, ut nasum omnem velut aquam ab rabido morsus cane reformident; adeo mobiles alii sunt, ut aliud sedentes probent, aliud stantes. Hi sedent in tabernis et inter pocula de scriptorum iudicant ingeniis magnaque cum auctoritate condemnant, utcumque libitum est, suis quemque scriptis veluti capilicio vellicantes, ipsi interim tuti et, quod dici solet, ἔξω βέλους, quippe tam leves et abrasi undique, ut ne pilum quidem habeant boni viri, quo possint apprehendi.

Sunt praeterea quidam tam ingrati, ut cum impense delectentur opere, nihilo tamen magis ament auctorem, non absimiles inhumanis hospitibus, qui cum opiparo convivio prolixe sint excepti, saturi demum discedunt domum nullis habitis gratiis ei, a quo sunt invitati. I nunc et hominibus tam delicati palati, tam varii gustus, animi praeterea tam memoris et grati tuis impensis epulum instrue!

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