4 November 2013

Hack Writers

Philip Gilbert Hamerton, The Intellectual Life (London: Macmillan, 1887), pp. 413-414:
The fault I find with writing as a profession is that it does not pay to do your best. I don’t mean to insinuate that downright slovenly or careless work is the most profitable; but I do mean to say that any high degree of conscientiousness, especially in the way of study and research, is a direct injury to the professional writer’s purse. Suppose, for example, that he is engaged in reviewing a book, and is to get 3l. 10s. for the review when it is written. If by the accident of previous accumulation his knowledge is already fully equal to the demand upon it, the review may be written rapidly, and the day’s work will have been a profitable one; but if, on the other hand, it is necessary to consult several authorities, to make some laborious researches, then the reviewer is placed in a dilemma between literary thoroughness and duty to his family. He cannot spend a week in reading up a subject for the sum of 3l. 10s. Is it not much easier to string together a few phrases which will effectually hide his ignorance from everybody but the half-dozen enthusiasts who have mastered the subject of the book? It is strange that the professional pursuit of literature should be a direct discouragement to study; yet it is so. There are hack-writers who study, and they deserve much honour for doing so, since the temptations the other way are always so pressing and immediate.