On Authorship and Style by A. Schopenhauer

There are, first of all, two kinds of authors: those who write for the 
subject's sake, and those who write for writing's sake. The first kind 
have had thoughts or experiences which seem to them worth communicating, while the second kind need money and consequently write for money. They think in order to write, and they may be recognised by their spinning 
out their thoughts to the greatest possible length, and also by the way 
they work out their thoughts, which are half-true, perverse, forced, and 
vacillating; then also by their love of evasion, so that they may seem 
what they are not; and this is why their writing is lacking in 
definiteness and clearness. 

Consequently, it is soon recognised that they write for the sake of 
filling up the paper, and this is the case sometimes with the best 
authors; for example, in parts of Lessing's _Dramaturgie_, and even in 
many of Jean Paul's romances. As soon as this is perceived the book 
should be thrown away, for time is precious. As a matter of fact, the 
author is cheating the reader as soon as he writes for the sake of 
filling up paper; because his pretext for writing is that he has 
something to impart. Writing for money and preservation of copyright 
are, at bottom, the ruin of literature. It is only the man who writes 
absolutely for the sake of the subject that writes anything worth 
writing. What an inestimable advantage it would be, if, in every branch 
of literature, there existed only a few but excellent books! This can 
never come to pass so long as money is to be made by writing. It seems 
as if money lay under a curse, for every author deteriorates directly he 
writes in any way for the sake of money. The best works of great men all 
come from the time when they had to write either for nothing or for very 
little pay. This is confirmed by the Spanish proverb: _honra y provecho 
no caben en un saco_ (Honour and money are not to be found in the same 
purse). The deplorable condition of the literature of to-day, both in 
Germany and other countries, is due to the fact that books are written 
for the sake of earning money. Every one who is in want of money sits 
down and writes a book, and the public is stupid enough to buy it. The 
secondary effect of this is the ruin of language. 

A great number of bad authors eke out their existence entirely by the 
foolishness of the public, which only will read what has just been 
printed. I refer to journalists, who have been appropriately so-called. 
In other words, it would be "day labourer." 

* * * * * 

Again, it may be said that there are three kinds of authors. In the 
first place, there are those who write without thinking. They write from 
memory, from reminiscences, or even direct from other people's books. 
This class is the most numerous. In the second, those who think whilst 
they are writing. They think in order to write; and they are numerous. 
In the third place, there are those who have thought before they begin 
to write. They write solely because they have thought; and they are 

Authors of the second class, who postpone their thinking until they 
begin to write, are like a sportsman who goes out at random--he is not 
likely to bring home very much. While the writing of an author of the 
third, the rare class, is like a chase where the game has been captured 
beforehand and cooped up in some enclosure from which it is afterwards
set free, so many at a time, into another enclosure, where it is not 
possible for it to escape, and the sportsman has now nothing to do but 
to aim and fire--that is to say, put his thoughts on paper. This is the 
kind of sport which yields something. 

But although the number of those authors who really and seriously think 
before they write is small, only extremely few of them think about _the 
subject itself_; the rest think only about the books written on this 
subject, and what has been said by others upon it, I mean. In order to 
think, they must have the more direct and powerful incentive of other 
people's thoughts. These become their next theme, and therefore they 
always remain under their influence and are never, strictly speaking, 
original. On the contrary, the former are roused to thought through the 
_subject itself_, hence their thinking is directed immediately to it. It 
is only among them that we find the authors whose names become immortal. 
Let it be understood that I am speaking here of writers of the higher 
branches of literature, and not of writers on the method of distilling 

It is only the writer who takes the material on which he writes direct 
out of his own head that is worth reading. Book manufacturers, 
compilers, and the ordinary history writers, and others like them, take 
their material straight out of books; it passes into their fingers 
without its having paid transit duty or undergone inspection when it was 
in their heads, to say nothing of elaboration. (How learned many a man 
would be if he knew everything that was in his own books!) Hence their 
talk is often of such a vague nature that one racks one's brains in vain 
to understand of _what_ they are really thinking. They are not thinking 
at all. The book from which they copy is sometimes composed in the same 
way: so that writing of this kind is like a plaster cast of a cast of a 
cast, and so on, until finally all that is left is a scarcely 
recognisable outline of the face of Antinous. Therefore, compilations 
should be read as seldom as possible: it is difficult to avoid them 
entirely, since compendia, which contain in a small space knowledge that
has been collected in the course of several centuries, are included in 

No greater mistake can be made than to imagine that what has been 
written latest is always the more correct; that what is written later on 
is an improvement on what was written previously; and that every change
means progress. Men who think and have correct judgment, and people who 
treat their subject earnestly, are all exceptions only. Vermin is the 
rule everywhere in the world: it is always at hand and busily engaged in 
trying to improve in its own way upon the mature deliberations of the 
thinkers. So that if a man wishes to improve himself in any subject he 
must guard against immediately seizing the newest books written upon it, 
in the assumption that science is always advancing and that the older 
books have been made use of in the compiling of the new. They have, it 
is true, been used; but how? The writer often does not thoroughly 
understand the old books; he will, at the same time, not use their exact 
words, so that the result is he spoils and bungles what has been said in 
a much better and clearer way by the old writers; since they wrote from 
their own lively knowledge of the subject. He often leaves out the best 
things they have written, their most striking elucidations of the 
matter, their happiest remarks, because he does not recognise their 
value or feel how pregnant they are. It is only what is stupid and 
shallow that appeals to him. An old and excellent book is frequently 
shelved for new and bad ones; which, written for the sake of money, wear
a pretentious air and are much eulogised by the authors' friends. In 
science, a man who wishes to distinguish himself brings something new to 
market; this frequently consists in his denouncing some principle that 
has been previously held as correct, so that he may establish a wrong 
one of his own. Sometimes his attempt is successful for a short time, 
when a return is made to the old and correct doctrine. These innovators 
are serious about nothing else in the world than their own priceless 
person, and it is this that they wish to make its mark. They bring this 
quickly about by beginning a paradox; the sterility of their own heads 
suggests their taking the path of negation; and truths that have long 
been recognised are now denied--for instance, the vital power, the 
sympathetic nervous system, _generatio equivoca_, Bichat's distinction 
between the working of the passions and the working of intelligence, or 
they return to crass atomism, etc., etc. Hence _the course of science is 
often retrogressive_. 

To this class of writers belong also those translators who, besides 
translating their author, at the same time correct and alter him, a 
thing that always seems to me impertinent. Write books yourself which 
are worth translating and leave the books of other people as they are. 
One should read, if it is possible, the real authors, the founders and 
discoverers of things, or at any rate the recognised great masters in 
every branch of learning, and buy second-hand _books_ rather than read 
their _contents_ in new ones. 

It is true that _inventis aliquid addere facile est_, therefore a man, 
after having studied the principles of his subject, will have to make 
himself acquainted with the more recent information written upon it. In 
general, the following rule holds good here as elsewhere, namely: what 
is new is seldom good; because a good thing is only new for a short 

What the address is to a letter the _title_ should be to a book--that 
is, its immediate aim should be to bring the book to that part of the 
public that will be interested in its contents. Therefore, the title 
should be effective, and since it is essentially short, it should be 
concise, laconic, pregnant, and if possible express the contents in a 
word. Therefore a title that is prolix, or means nothing at all, or that 
is indirect or ambiguous, is bad; so is one that is false and 
misleading: this last may prepare for the book the same fate as that 
which awaits a wrongly addressed letter. The worst titles are those that 
are stolen, such titles that is to say that other books already bear; 
for in the first place they are a plagiarism, and in the second a most 
convincing proof of an absolute want of originality. A man who has not 
enough originality to think out a new title for his book will be much 
less capable of giving it new contents. Akin to these are those titles 
which have been imitated, in other words, half stolen; for instance, a 
long time after I had written "On Will in Nature," Oersted wrote "On 
Mind in Nature." 

* * * * * 

A book can never be anything more than the impression of its author's 
thoughts. The value of these thoughts lies either in the _matter about 
which_ he has thought, or in the _form_ in which he develops his 
matter--that is to say, _what_ he has thought about it. 

The matter of books is very various, as also are the merits conferred on 
books on account of their matter. All matter that is the outcome of 
experience, in other words everything that is founded on fact, whether 
it be historical or physical, taken by itself and in its widest sense, 
is included in the term matter. It is the _motif_ that gives its 
peculiar character to the book, so that a book can be important whoever 
the author may have been; while with form the peculiar character of a 
book rests with the author of it. The subjects may be of such a nature 
as to be accessible and well known to everybody; but the form in which 
they are expounded, _what_ has been thought about them, gives the book
its value, and this depends upon the author. Therefore if a book, from 
this point of view, is excellent and without a rival, so also is its 
author. From this it follows that the merit of a writer worth reading is 
all the greater the less he is dependent on matter--and the better known 
and worn out this matter, the greater will be his merit. The three great 
Grecian tragedians, for instance, all worked at the same subject. 

So that when a book becomes famous one should carefully distinguish 
whether it is so on account of its matter or its form. 

Quite ordinary and shallow men are able to produce books of very great 
importance because of their _matter_, which was accessible to them 
alone. Take, for instance, books which give descriptions of foreign 
countries, rare natural phenomena, experiments that have been made, 
historical events of which they were witnesses, or have spent both time 
and trouble in inquiring into and specially studying the authorities for 

On the other hand, it is on _form_ that we are dependent, where the 
matter is accessible to every one or very well known; and it is what has 
been thought about the matter that will give any value to the 
achievement; it will only be an eminent man who will be able to write 
anything that is worth reading. For the others will only think what is 
possible for every other man to think. They give the impress of their 
own mind; but every one already possesses the original of this 

However, the public is very much more interested in matter than in form, 
and it is for this very reason that it is behindhand in any high degree 
of culture. It is most laughable the way the public reveals its liking 
for matter in poetic works; it carefully investigates the real events or 
personal circumstances of the poet's life which served to give the 
_motif_ of his works; nay, finally, it finds these more interesting than 
the works themselves; it reads more about Goethe than what has been 
written by Goethe, and industriously studies the legend of Faust in 
preference to Goethe's _Faust_ itself. And when Bürger said that "people 
would make learned expositions as to who Leonora really was," we see 
this literally fulfilled in Goethe's case, for we now have many learned 
expositions on Faust and the Faust legend. They are and will remain of a 
purely material character. This preference for matter to form is the 
same as a man ignoring the shape and painting of a fine Etruscan vase in
order to make a chemical examination of the clay and colours of which it 
is made. The attempt to be effective by means of the matter used, 
thereby ministering to this evil propensity of the public, is absolutely 
to be censured in branches of writing where the merit must lie expressly 
in the form; as, for instance, in poetical writing. However, there are 
numerous bad dramatic authors striving to fill the theatre by means of 
the matter they are treating. For instance, they place on the stage any 
kind of celebrated man, however stripped of dramatic incidents his life 
may have been, nay, sometimes without waiting until the persons who 
appear with him are dead. 

The distinction between matter and form, of which I am here speaking, is 
true also in regard to conversation. It is chiefly intelligence, 
judgment, wit, and vivacity that enable a man to converse; they give 
form to the conversation. However, the _matter_ of the conversation must 
soon come into notice--in other words, _that_ about which one can talk 
to the man, namely, his knowledge. If this is very small, it will only 
be his possessing the above-named formal qualities in a quite 
exceptionally high degree that will make his conversation of any value, 
for his matter will be restricted to things concerning humanity and 
nature, which are known generally. It is just the reverse if a man is 
wanting in these formal qualities, but has, on the other hand, knowledge 
of such a kind that it lends value to his conversation; this value, 
however, will then entirely rest on the matter of his conversation, for, 
according to the Spanish proverb, _mas sabe el necio en su casa, que el 
sabio en la agena_. 

A thought only really lives until it has reached the boundary line of 
words; it then becomes petrified and dies immediately; yet it is as 
everlasting as the fossilised animals and plants of former ages. Its 
existence, which is really momentary, may be compared to a crystal the 
instant it becomes crystallised. 

As soon as a thought has found words it no longer exists in us or is 
serious in its deepest sense. 

When it begins to exist for others it ceases to live in us; just as a 
child frees itself from its mother when it comes into existence. The 
poet has also said: 

"Ihr müsst mich nicht durch Widerspruch verwirren! 
_Sobald man spricht, beginnt man schon zu irren_." 

The pen is to thought what the stick is to walking, but one walks most 
easily without a stick, and thinks most perfectly when no pen is at 
hand. It is only when a man begins to get old that he likes to make use 
of a stick and his pen. 

A hypothesis that has once gained a position in the mind, or been born 
in it, leads a life resembling that of an organism, in so far as it 
receives from the outer world matter only that is advantageous and 
homogeneous to it; on the other hand, matter that is harmful and 
heterogeneous to it is either rejected, or if it must be received, cast 
off again entirely. 

Abstract and indefinite terms should be employed in satire only as they 
are in algebra, in place of concrete and specified quantities. Moreover, 
it should be used as sparingly as the dissecting knife on the body of a 
living man. At the risk of forfeiting his life it is an unsafe 

For a work to become _immortal_ it must possess so many excellences that 
it will not be easy to find a man who understands and values them _all_; 
so that there will be in all ages men who recognise and appreciate some 
of these excellences; by this means the credit of the work will be 
retained throughout the long course of centuries and ever-changing 
interests, for, as it is appreciated first in this sense, then in that, 
the interest is never exhausted. 

An author like this, in other words, an author who has a claim to live 
on in posterity, can only be a man who seeks in vain his like among his 
contemporaries over the wide world, his marked distinction making him a
striking contrast to every one else. Even if he existed through several 
generations, like the wandering Jew, he would still occupy the same 
position; in short, he would be, as Ariosto has put it, _lo fece natura, 
e poi ruppe lo stampo_. If this were not so, one would not be able to 
understand why his thoughts should not perish like those of other men. 

In almost every age, whether it be in literature or art, we find that if 
a thoroughly wrong idea, or a fashion, or a manner is in vogue, it is 
admired. Those of ordinary intelligence trouble themselves inordinately 
to acquire it and put it in practice. An intelligent man sees through it 
and despises it, consequently he remains out of the fashion. Some years 
later the public sees through it and takes the sham for what it is 
worth; it now laughs at it, and the much-admired colour of all these 
works of fashion falls off like the plaster from a badly-built wall: and 
they are in the same dilapidated condition. We should be glad and not 
sorry when a fundamentally wrong notion of which we have been secretly
conscious for a long time finally gains a footing and is proclaimed both 
loudly and openly. The falseness of it will soon be felt and eventually 
proclaimed equally loudly and openly. It is as if an abscess had burst. 

The man who publishes and edits an article written by an anonymous 
critic should be held as immediately responsible for it as if he had 
written it himself; just as one holds a manager responsible for bad work 
done by his workmen. In this way the fellow would be treated as he 
deserves to be--namely, without any ceremony. 

An anonymous writer is a literary fraud against whom one should 
immediately cry out, "Wretch, if you do not wish to admit what it is you 
say against other people, hold your slanderous tongue." 

An anonymous criticism carries no more weight than an anonymous letter, 
and should therefore be looked upon with equal mistrust. Or do we wish 
to accept the assumed name of a man, who in reality represents a 
_société anonyme_, as a guarantee for the veracity of his friends? 

The little honesty that exists among authors is discernible in the 
unconscionable way they misquote from the writings of others. I find 
whole passages in my works wrongly quoted, and it is only in my 
appendix, which is absolutely lucid, that an exception is made. The 
misquotation is frequently due to carelessness, the pen of such people 
has been used to write down such trivial and banal phrases that it goes 
on writing them out of force of habit. Sometimes the misquotation is due 
to impertinence on the part of some one who wants to improve upon my 
work; but a bad motive only too often prompts the misquotation--it is 
then horrid baseness and roguery, and, like a man who commits forgery, 
he loses the character for being an honest man for ever. 

Style is the physiognomy of the mind. It is a more reliable key to 
character than the physiognomy of the body. To imitate another person's 
style is like wearing a mask. However fine the mask, it soon becomes 
insipid and intolerable because it is without life; so that even the 
ugliest living face is better. Therefore authors who write in Latin and 
imitate the style of the old writers essentially wear a mask; one 
certainly hears what they say, but one cannot watch their 
physiognomy--that is to say their style. One observes, however, the 
style in the Latin writings of men _who think for themselves_, those who 
have not deigned to imitate, as, for instance, Scotus Erigena, Petrarch, 
Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza, etc. 

Affectation in style is like making grimaces. The language in which a 
man writes is the physiognomy of his nation; it establishes a great many 
differences, beginning from the language of the Greeks down to that of 
the Caribbean islanders. 

We should seek for the faults in the style of another author's works, so 
that we may avoid committing the same in our own. 

In order to get a provisional estimate of the value of an author's 
productions it is not exactly necessary to know the matter on which he 
has thought or what it is he has thought about it,--this would compel 
one to read the whole of his works,--but it will be sufficient to know 
_how_ he has thought. His _style_ is an exact expression of _how_ he has
thought, of the essential state and general _quality_ of his thoughts. 
It shows the _formal_ nature--which must always remain the same--of all 
the thoughts of a man, whatever the subject on which he has thought or 
what it is he has said about it. It is the dough out of which all his 
ideas are kneaded, however various they may be. When Eulenspiegel was
asked by a man how long he would have to walk before reaching the next
place, and gave the apparently absurd answer _Walk_, his intention was 
to judge from the man's walking how far he would go in a given time. And
so it is when I have read a few pages of an author, I know about how far 
he can help me. 

In the secret consciousness that this is the condition of things, every 
mediocre writer tries to mask his own natural style. This instantly 
necessitates his giving up all idea of being _naïve_, a privilege which 
belongs to superior minds sensible of their superiority, and therefore 
sure of themselves. For instance, it is absolutely impossible for men of 
ordinary intelligence to make up their minds to write as they think; 
they resent the idea of their work looking too simple. It would always 
be of some value, however. If they would only go honestly to work and in 
a simple way express the few and ordinary ideas they have really 
thought, they would be readable and even instructive in their own 
sphere. But instead of that they try to appear to have thought much more 
deeply than is the case. The result is, they put what they have to say 
into forced and involved language, create new words and prolix periods 
which go round the thought and cover it up. They hesitate between the 
two attempts of communicating the thought and of concealing it. They 
want to make it look grand so that it has the appearance of being 
learned and profound, thereby giving one the idea that there is much 
more in it than one perceives at the moment. Accordingly, they sometimes 
put down their thoughts in bits, in short, equivocal, and paradoxical 
sentences which appear to mean much more than they say (a splendid 
example of this kind of writing is furnished by Schelling's treatises on 
Natural Philosophy); sometimes they express their thoughts in a crowd of
words and the most intolerable diffuseness, as if it were necessary to 
make a sensation in order to make the profound meaning of their phrases 
intelligible--while it is quite a simple idea if not a trivial one 
(examples without number are supplied in Fichte's popular works and in 
the philosophical pamphlets of a hundred other miserable blockheads that 
are not worth mentioning), or else they endeavour to use a certain style 
in writing which it has pleased them to adopt--for example, a style that 
is so thoroughly _Kat' e'xochae'u_ profound and scientific, where one is 
tortured to death by the narcotic effect of long-spun periods that are 
void of all thought (examples of this are specially supplied by those 
most impertinent of all mortals, the Hegelians in their Hegel newspaper 
commonly known as _Jahrbücher der wissenschaftlichen Literatur)_; or 
again, they aim at an intellectual style where it seems then as if they 
wish to go crazy, and so on. All such efforts whereby they try to 
postpone the _nascetur ridiculus mus_ make it frequently difficult to 
understand what they really mean. Moreover, they write down words, nay,
whole periods, which mean nothing in themselves, in the hope, however, 
that some one else will understand something from them. Nothing else is
at the bottom of all such endeavours but the inexhaustible attempt which
is always venturing on new paths, to sell words for thoughts, and by 
means of new expressions, or expressions used in a new sense, turns of 
phrases and combinations of all kinds, to produce the appearance of 
intellect in order to compensate for the want of it which is so 
painfully felt. It is amusing to see how, with this aim in view, first 
this mannerism and then that is tried; these they intend to represent 
the mask of intellect: this mask may possibly deceive the inexperienced 
for a while, until it is recognised as being nothing but a dead mask, 
when it is laughed at and exchanged for another. 

We find a writer of this kind sometimes writing in a dithyrambic style, 
as if he were intoxicated; at other times, nay, on the very next page, 
he will be high-sounding, severe, and deeply learned, prolix to the last 
degree of dulness, and cutting everything very small, like the late 
Christian Wolf, only in a modern garment. The mask of unintelligibility 
holds out the longest; this is only in Germany, however, where it was 
introduced by Fichte, perfected by Schelling, and attained its highest 
climax finally in Hegel, always with the happiest results. And yet 
nothing is easier than to write so that no one can understand; on the 
other hand, nothing is more difficult than to express learned ideas so 
that every one must understand them. All the arts I have cited above are 
superfluous if the writer really possesses any intellect, for it allows 
a man to show himself as he is and verifies for all time what Horace 
said: _Scribendi recte sapere est et principium et fons_. 

But this class of authors is like certain workers in metal, who try a 
hundred different compositions to take the place of gold, which is the 
only metal that can never have a substitute. On the contrary, there is 
nothing an author should guard against more than the apparent endeavour 
to show more intellect than he has; because this rouses the suspicion in 
the reader that he has very little, since a man always affects 
something, be its nature what it may, that he does not really possess. 
And this is why it is praise to an author to call him naïve, for it 
signifies that he may show himself as he is. In general, naïveté 
attracts, while anything that is unnatural everywhere repels. We also 
find that every true thinker endeavours to express his thoughts as 
purely, clearly, definitely, and concisely as ever possible. This is why 
simplicity has always been looked upon as a token, not only of truth, 
but also of genius. Style receives its beauty from the thought 
expressed, while with those writers who only pretend to think it is 
their thoughts that are said to be fine because of their style. Style is 
merely the silhouette of thought; and to write in a vague or bad style 
means a stupid or confused mind. 

Hence, the first rule--nay, this in itself is almost sufficient for a 
good style--is this, _that the author should have something to say_. Ah! 
this implies a great deal. The neglect of this rule is a fundamental 
characteristic of the philosophical, and generally speaking of all the 
reflective authors in Germany, especially since the time of Fichte. It 
is obvious that all these writers wish _to appear_ to have something to 
say, while they have nothing to say. This mannerism was introduced by 
the pseudo-philosophers of the Universities and may be discerned 
everywhere, even among the first literary notabilities of the age. It is 
the mother of that forced and vague style which seems to have two, nay, 
many meanings, as well as of that prolix and ponderous style, _le stile 
empesé_; and of that no less useless bombastic style, and finally of 
that mode of concealing the most awful poverty of thought under a babble 
of inexhaustible chatter that resembles a clacking mill and is just as 
stupefying: one may read for hours together without getting hold of a 
single clearly defined and definite idea. The _Halleschen_, afterwards 
called the _Deutschen Jahrbücher_, furnishes almost throughout excellent 
examples of this style of writing. The Germans, by the way, from force 
of habit read page after page of all kinds of such verbiage without 
getting any definite idea of what the author really means: they think it 
all very proper and do not discover that he is writing merely for the 
sake of writing. On the other hand, a good author who is rich in ideas 
soon gains the reader's credit of having really and truly _something to 
say_; and this gives the intelligent reader patience to follow him 
attentively. An author of this kind will always express himself in the 
simplest and most direct manner, for the very reason that he really has 
something to say; because he wishes to awaken in the reader the same 
idea he has in his own mind and no other. Accordingly he will be able to 
say with Boileau-- 

"Ma pensée au grand jour partout s'offre et s'expose, 
Et mon vers, bien ou mal, dit toujours quelque chose;" 

while of those previously described writers it may be said, in the words 
of the same poet, _et qui parlant beaucoup ne disent jamais rien_. It is 
also a characteristic of such writers to avoid, if it is possible, 
expressing themselves _definitely_, so that they may be always able in 
case of need to get out of a difficulty; this is why they always choose 
the more _abstract_ expressions: while people of intellect choose the 
more _concrete_; because the latter bring the matter closer to view, 
which is the source of all evidence. This preference for abstract 
expressions may be confirmed by numerous examples: a specially 
ridiculous example is the following. Throughout German literature of the 
last ten years we find "to condition" almost everywhere used in place of 
"to cause" or "to effect." Since it is more abstract and indefinite it 
says less than it implies, and consequently leaves a little back door 
open to please those whose secret consciousness of their own incapacity 
inspires them with a continual fear of all _definite_ expressions. While 
with other people it is merely the effect of that national tendency to 
immediately imitate everything that is stupid in literature and wicked 
in life; this is shown in either case by the quick way in which it 
spreads. The Englishman depends on his own judgment both in what he 
writes and what he does, but this applies less to the German than to any 
other nation. In consequence of the state of things referred to, the 
words "to cause" and "to effect" have almost entirely disappeared from 
the literature of the last ten years, and people everywhere talk of 
"to condition." The fact is worth mentioning because it is 
characteristically ridiculous. Everyday authors are only half conscious 
when they write, a fact which accounts for their want of intellect and 
the tediousness of their writings; they do not really themselves 
understand the meaning of their own words, because they take ready-made 
words and learn them. Hence they combine whole phrases more than 
words--_phrases banales_. This accounts for that obviously 
characteristic want of clearly defined thought; in fact, they lack the 
die that stamps their thoughts, they have no clear thought of their own; 
in place of it we find an indefinite, obscure interweaving of words, 
current phrases, worn-out terms of speech, and fashionable expressions. 
The result is that their foggy kind of writing is like print that has 
been done with old type. On the other hand, intelligent people _really_ 
speak to us in their writings, and this is why they are able to both 
move and entertain us. It is only intelligent writers who place 
individual words together with a full consciousness of their use and 
select them with deliberation. Hence their style of writing bears the 
same relation to that of those authors described above, as a picture 
that is really painted does to one that has been executed with stencil. 
In the first instance every word, just as every stroke of the brush, has 
some special significance, while in the other everything is done 
mechanically. The same distinction may be observed in music. For it is 
the omnipresence of intellect that always and everywhere characterises 
the works of the genius; and analogous to this is Lichtenberg's 
observation, namely, that Garrick's soul was omnipresent in all the 
muscles of his body. With regard to the tediousness of the writings 
referred to above, it is to be observed in general that there are two 
kinds of tediousness--an objective and a subjective. The _objective_ 
form of tediousness springs from the deficiency of which we have been 
speaking--that is to say, where the author has no perfectly clear 
thought or knowledge to communicate. For if a writer possesses any clear 
thought or knowledge it will be his aim to communicate it, and he will 
work with this end in view; consequently the ideas he furnishes are 
everywhere clearly defined, so that he is neither diffuse, unmeaning, 
nor confused, and consequently not tedious. Even if his fundamental idea
is wrong, yet in such a case it will be clearly thought out and well 
pondered; in other words, it is at least formally correct, and the 
writing is always of some value. While, for the same reason, a work that 
is objectively _tedious_ is at all times without value. Again, 
_subjective_ tediousness is merely relative: this is because the reader 
is not interested in the subject of the work, and that what he takes an 
interest in is of a very limited nature. The most excellent work may 
therefore be tedious subjectively to this or that person, just as, _vice 
versâ_, the worst work may be subjectively diverting to this or that 
person: because he is interested in either the subject or the writer of 
the book. 

It would be of general service to German authors if they discerned that 
while a man should, if possible, think like a great mind, he should 
speak the same language as every other person. Men should use common 
words to say uncommon things, but they do the reverse. We find them 
trying to envelop trivial ideas in grand words and to dress their very 
ordinary thoughts in the most extraordinary expressions and the most 
outlandish, artificial, and rarest phrases. Their sentences perpetually 
stalk about on stilts. With regard to their delight in bombast, and to 
their writing generally in a grand, puffed-up, unreal, hyperbolical, and 
acrobatic style, their prototype is Pistol, who was once impatiently 
requested by Falstaff, his friend, to "say what you have to say, _like a 
man of this world_!"[5] 

There is no expression in the German language exactly corresponding to 
_stile empesé_; but the thing itself is all the more prevalent. When 
combined with unnaturalness it is in works what affected gravity, 
grandness, and unnaturalness are in social intercourse; and it is just 
as intolerable. Poverty of intellect is fond of wearing this dress; just 
as stupid people in everyday life are fond of assuming gravity and 

A man who writes in this _preziös_ style is like a person who dresses 
himself up to avoid being mistaken for or confounded with the mob; a 
danger which a _gentleman_, even in his worst clothes, does not run. 
Hence just as a plebeian is recognised by a certain display in his dress 
and his _tiré à quatre épingles_, so is an ordinary writer recognised by 
his style. 

If a man has something to say that is worth saying, he need not envelop 
it in affected expressions, involved phrases, and enigmatical 
innuendoes; but he may rest assured that by expressing himself in a 
simple, clear, and naïve manner he will not fail to produce the right 
effect. A man who makes use of such artifices as have been alluded to 
betrays his poverty of ideas, mind, and knowledge. 

Nevertheless, it is a mistake to attempt to write exactly as one speaks. 
Every style of writing should bear a certain trace of relationship with 
the monumental style, which is, indeed, the ancestor of all styles; so 
that to write as one speaks is just as faulty as to do the reverse, that 
is to say, to try and speak as one writes. This makes the author 
pedantic, and at the same time difficult to understand. 

Obscurity and vagueness of expression are at all times and everywhere a 
very bad sign. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred they arise from 
vagueness of thought, which, in its turn, is almost always fundamentally 
discordant, inconsistent, and therefore wrong. When a right thought 
springs up in the mind it strives after clearness of expression, and it 
soon attains it, for clear thought easily finds its appropriate 
expression. A man who is capable of thinking can express himself at all 
times in clear, comprehensible, and unambiguous words. Those writers who 
construct difficult, obscure, involved, and ambiguous phrases most 
certainly do not rightly know what it is they wish to say: they have 
only a dull consciousness of it, which is still struggling to put itself 
into thought; they also often wish to conceal from themselves and other 
people that in reality they have nothing to say. Like Fichte, Schelling, 
and Hegel, they wish to appear to know what they do not know, to think 
what they do not think, and to say what they do not say. 

Will a man, then, who has something real to impart endeavour to say it 
in a clear or an indistinct way? Quintilian has already said, _plerumque 
accidit ut faciliora sint ad intelligendum et lucidiora multo, quae a 
doctissimo quoque dicuntur.... Erit ergo etiam obscurior, quo quisque 

A man's way of expressing himself should not be _enigmatical_, but he 
should know whether he has something to say or whether he has not. It is
an uncertainty of expression which makes German writers so dull. The 
only exceptional cases are those where a man wishes to express something 
that is in some respect of an illicit nature. As anything that is 
far-fetched generally produces the reverse of what the writer has aimed 
at, so do words serve to make thought comprehensible; but only up to a 
certain point. If words are piled up beyond this point they make the 
thought that is being communicated more and more obscure. To hit that 
point is the problem of style and a matter of discernment; for every 
superfluous word prevents its purpose being carried out. Voltaire means 
this when he says: _l'adjectif est l'ennemi du substantif_. (But, truly, 
many authors try to hide their poverty of thought under a superfluity of 

Accordingly, all prolixity and all binding together of unmeaning 
observations that are not worth reading should be avoided. A writer must 
be sparing with the reader's time, concentration, and patience; in this 
way he makes him believe that what he has before him is worth his 
careful reading, and will repay the trouble he has spent upon it. It is 
always better to leave out something that is good than to write down 
something that is not worth saying. Hesiod's [Greek: pleon haemisu 
pantos][6] finds its right application. In fact, not to say everything! 
_Le secret pour être ennuyeux, c'est de tout dire_. Therefore, if 
possible, the quintessence only! the chief matter only! nothing that the 
reader would think for himself. The use of many words in order to 
express little thought is everywhere the infallible sign of mediocrity; 
while to clothe much thought in a few words is the infallible sign of 
distinguished minds. 

Truth that is naked is the most beautiful, and the simpler its 
expression the deeper is the impression it makes; this is partly because 
it gets unobstructed hold of the hearer's mind without his being 
distracted by secondary thoughts, and partly because he feels that here 
he is not being corrupted or deceived by the arts of rhetoric, but that 
the whole effect is got from the thing itself. For instance, what 
declamation on the emptiness of human existence could be more impressive 
than Job's: _Homo, natus de muliere, brevi vivit tempore, repletus 
multis miseriis, qui, tanquam flos, egreditur et conteritur, et fugit 
velut umbra_. It is for this very reason that the naïve poetry of Goethe 
is so incomparably greater than the rhetorical of Schiller. This is also 
why many folk-songs have so great an effect upon us. An author should 
guard against using all unnecessary rhetorical adornment, all useless 
amplification, and in general, just as in architecture he should guard 
against an excess of decoration, all superfluity of expression--in other 
words, he must aim at _chastity_ of style. Everything that is redundant 
has a harmful effect. The law of simplicity and naïveté applies to all 
fine art, for it is compatible with what is most sublime. 

True brevity of expression consists in a man only saying what is worth 
saying, while avoiding all diffuse explanations of things which every 
one can think out for himself; that is, it consists in his correctly 
distinguishing between what is necessary and what is superfluous. On the 
other hand, one should never sacrifice clearness, to say nothing of 
grammar, for the sake of being brief. To impoverish the expression of a 
thought, or to obscure or spoil the meaning of a period for the sake of 
using fewer words shows a lamentable want of judgment. And this is 
precisely what that false brevity nowadays in vogue is trying to do, for 
writers not only leave out words that are to the purpose, but even 
grammatical and logical essentials.[7] 

_Subjectivity_, which is an error of style in German literature, is, 
through the deteriorated condition of literature and neglect of old 
languages, becoming more common. By _subjectivity_ I mean when a writer 
thinks it sufficient for himself to know what he means and wants to say, 
and it is left to the reader to discover what is meant. Without 
troubling himself about his reader, he writes as if he were holding a 
monologue; whereas it should be a dialogue, and, moreover, a dialogue in
which he must express himself all the more clearly as the questions of 
the reader cannot be heard. And it is for this very reason that style 
should not be subjective but objective, and for it to be objective the 
words must be written in such a way as to directly compel the reader to 
think precisely the same as the author thought. This will only be the 
case when the author has borne in mind that thoughts, inasmuch as they 
follow the law of gravity, pass more easily from head to paper than from 
paper to head. Therefore the journey from paper to head must be helped 
by every means at his command. When he does this his words have a purely 
objective effect, like that of a completed oil painting; while the 
subjective style is not much more certain in its effect than spots on 
the wall, and it is only the man whose fantasy is accidentally aroused 
by them that sees figures; other people only see blurs. The difference 
referred to applies to every style of writing as a whole, and it is also 
often met with in particular instances; for example, I read in a book 
that has just been published: _I have not written to increase the number 
of existing books_. This means exactly the opposite of what the writer 
had in view, and is nonsense into the bargain. 

A man who writes carelessly at once proves that he himself puts no great
value on his own thoughts. For it is only by being convinced of the 
truth and importance of our thoughts that there arises in us the 
inspiration necessary for the inexhaustible patience to discover the 
clearest, finest, and most powerful expression for them; just as one 
puts holy relics or priceless works of art in silvern or golden 
receptacles. It was for this reason that the old writers--whose 
thoughts, expressed in their own words, have lasted for thousands of 
years and hence bear the honoured title of classics--wrote with 
universal care. Plato, indeed, is said to have written the introduction 
to his _Republic_ seven times with different modifications. On the other 
hand, the Germans are conspicuous above all other nations for neglect of
style in writing, as they are for neglect of dress, both kinds of 
slovenliness which have their source in the German national character. 
Just as neglect of dress betrays contempt for the society in which a man 
moves, so does a hasty, careless, and bad style show shocking disrespect 
for the reader, who then rightly punishes it by not reading the book.