Tuesday, April 13, 2004

On April 13, 1869
Venerable John Henry Newman, C.O., wrote the following letter to the Rev. John Hayes, who had inquired about his writing style.

"My dear Sir,—I saw the article you speak of in the 'Times,' and felt flattered by the passage which referred to myself.

The writer must have alluded in the sentence which leads to your question to my 'Lectures and Essays on University Subjects,' which is at present out of print. In that volume there are several papers on English and Latin composition.

It is simply the fact that I have been obliged to take great pains with every thing I have written, and I often write chapters over and over again, besides innumerable corrections and interlinear additions. I am not stating this as a merit, only that some persons write their best first, and I very seldom do. Those who are good speakers may be supposed to be able to write off what they want to say. I, who am not a good speaker, have to correct laboriously what I put on paper. I have heard that Archbishop Howley, who was an elegant writer, betrayed the labour by which he became so by his mode of speaking, which was most painful to hear from his hesitations and alterations-that is, he was correcting his composition as he went along.

However, I may truly say that I never have been in the practice since I was a boy of attempting to write well, or to form an elegant style. I think I never have written for writing sake: but my one and single desire and aim has been to do what is so difficult-viz. to express clearly and exactly my meaning; this has been the motive principle of all my corrections and re-writings. When I have read over a passage which I had written a few days before, I have found it so obscure to myself that I have either put it altogether aside or fiercely corrected it; but I don’t get any better for practice. I am as much obliged to correct and re-write as I was thirty years ago.

As to patterns for imitation, the only master of style I have ever had (which is strange considering the differences of the languages) is Cicero. I think I owe a great deal to him, and as far as I know to no one else. His great mastery of Latin is shown especially in his clearness.
Very faithfully yours,


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