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On the Art of Writing

Lectures delivered at
Cambridge University

by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, M.A.
Fellow of Jesus College
King Edward VII
Professor of English Literature






By recasting these lectures I might with pains have turned them into a
smooth treatise. But I prefer to leave them (bating a very few
corrections and additions) as they were delivered. If, as the reader will
all too easily detect, they abound no less in repetitions than in
arguments dropped and left at loose ends--the whole bewraying a man
called unexpectedly to a post where in the act of adapting himself, of
learning that he might teach, he had often to adjourn his main purpose
and skirmish with difficulties--they will be the truer to life; and so
may experimentally enforce their preaching, that the Art of Writing is a
living business.

Bearing this in mind, the reader will perhaps excuse certain small
vivacities, sallies that meet fools with their folly, masking the main
attack. That, we will see, is serious enough; and others will carry it
on, though my effort come to naught.

It amounts to this--Literature is not a mere Science, to be studied; but
an Art, to be practised. Great as is our own literature, we must consider
it as a legacy to be improved. Any nation that potters with any glory of
its past, as a thing dead and done for, is to that extent renegade. If
that be granted, not all our pride in a Shakespeare can excuse the
relaxation of an effort--however vain and hopeless--to better him, or
some part of him. If, with all our native exemplars to give us courage,
we persist in striving to write well, we can easily resign to other
nations all the secondary fame to be picked up by commentators.

Recent history has strengthened, with passion and scorn, the faith in
which I wrote the following pages.


November 1915.


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