Tuesday, 15 July 2014

On Composition

 From the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1768-71)

“It is with thoughts, as it is with words; and with both as with men, they may grow old and die. Words tarnished, by passing through the mouths of the vulgar, are laid aside as inelegant and obsolete. So thoughts, when become too common, should lose their currency; and we should send new metal to the mint, that is, new meaning to the press...

After all, the first ancients had not merit in being originals: they could not be imitators. Modern writers have a choice to make; and therefore have a merit in their power. They may soar in the regions of liberty, or move in the soft fetters of easy imitation; and imitation has as many plausible reasons to urge, as pleasure had to offer to Hercules. Hercules made the choice of a hero and so became immortal.

Must we the, not imitate ancient authors? Imitate them by all means; but imitate aright. He that imitates the divine Iliad, does not imitate Homer; but he who takes the same method, which Homer took, for arriving at a capacity of accomplishing a work so great. Tread in his steps to the sole fountain of immortality; drink where he drank, at the true Helicon, that is, at the breast of nature. Imitate, but imitate not the composition, but the man. For may not this paradox pass into a maxim? Viz. “The less we copy the renowned ancients, we shall resemble them the more.””


  1. I bet Homer was imitating somebody. We just don't know who it was.

    1. Thats if Homer was even ONE PERSON....

    2. That's if Homer was even a PERSON or PERSONS.

  2. So true! But then how would we fill the paperback shelf?