31 March 2017

Literature Exists to Please

Augustine Birrell, "The Office of Literature," The Collected Essays & Addresses of the Rt. Hon. Augustine Birrell, Vol. 3 (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1922), pp. 55-56:
Cooks, warriors, and authors must be judged by  the effects they produce: toothsome dishes, glorious victories, pleasant books — these are our demands. We have nothing to do with ingredients, tactics, or methods. We have no desire to be admitted into the kitchen, the council, or the study. The cook may clean her saucepans how she pleases — the warrior place his men as he likes — the author handle his material or weave his plot as best he can — when the dish is served we only ask, Is it good? when the battle has been fought, Who won? when the book comes out. Does it read?

Authors ought not to be above being reminded that it is their first duty to write agreeably — some very disagreeable men have succeeded in doing so, and there is therefore no need for anyone to despair. Every author, be he grave or gay, should try to make his book as ingratiating as possible. Reading is not a duty, and has consequently no business to be made disagreeable. Nobody is under any obligation to read any other man's book.

Literature exists to please — to lighten the burden of men's lives; to make them for a short while forget their sorrows and their sins, their silenced hearths, their disappointed hopes, their grim futures — and those men of letters are the best loved who have best performed literature's truest office.