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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter CIX
Usbek to ——
 
THERE is a species of book unknown to us in Persia, and which seems to me to be very fashionable here: these are the journals. 1 Idleness feels flattered in reading them; it is so delightful to be able to run through thirty volumes in a quarter of an hour.  1
  In most of these books, the author has not made the ordinary compliments, before the reader is in despair: he is made to enter half dead upon a subject drowned in the midst of a sea of words. This one would immortalize himself in duodecimo, that one in quarto; another with loftier propensities aims at a folio; he must therefore extend his subject to proportion; which he does without mercy, counting as nothing the trouble of the poor reader, who worries himself to death reducing what the author took such pains to amplify.  2
  I cannot see … what merit there is in making such works; I could do it myself quite well, if I chose to ruin my health and a publisher.  3
  The chief faults of these journalists is, that they talk only of new books; as if truth were always new. It seems to me that until a man has read all the old books, he has no right to prefer the new ones.  4
  But when they lay it down as a law that they must never speak except of works hot from the press, they impose upon themselves another—which is, to be very tedious. They are very chary of criticising the works from which they make extracts, whatever their reason may be: and, indeed, what man is bold enough to wish to make ten or twelve enemies every month?  5
  Most authors are like poets, who will take a caning without a murmur; but who, indifferent as to their shoulders, are so very jealous of their works, that they cannot endure the least criticism. It is necessary then to be very careful not to attack them in so sensitive a spot; and the journalists know it well. They therefore do just the contrary: they begin by praising the matter treated of; from this their first ineptitude they pass to the praise of the author, forced praise, for they have to do with people who are always on the alert, ever ready to see justice done themselves, and to attack with trenchant pen a foolhardy journalist.

  PARIS, the 5th of the moon of Zilcade, 1718.
  6
 
Note 1. The French journals of the eighteenth century contained nothing but notices of new books. [back]
 
 
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