How to Make Books and Bore People

Pliny, Letters 8.21:

As in life, so in study, I think that it is most fine and most humane to mix severity and pleasantry lest the one degenerate into sadness and the other into petulance. Under the influence of this reasoning, I distinguish more serious works from mere games and jokes. For bringing these forth, I selected the most opportune time and place, and to get them used to being heard at leisure and even in the dining room, I placed in July, when lawsuits are at their lowest ebb, some chairs before the couches and got my friends together. By chance, it happened that on the same day I was called away for an unexpected case, which gave me a pretext for making some prefatory remarks. I begged that no one charge me of being irreverent to the work at hand because I, though about to recite to some friends and only a few at that (which is really just ‘friends’ again), did not abstain wholly from the forum and my business affairs. I added that I followed this order in writing too: I gave precedence to necessity over pleasure, and serious things to trifles, and I would first write to my friends and then write for myself.

It was a book variously filled with little works and poems. Thus we who trust too little to our power of intellect are accustomed to flee the danger of satiety. I recited for two days. This is what the agreement of the audience demanded. And yet, as others pass over certain things and reckon up an account of what they pass over, so I skip over nothing and I say that I don’t omit anything. I read everything so that I can correct everything, which can hardly be done when one simply recites selections. But that is perhaps more modest and respectful, while my method is simpler and more loving. For the one who thinks that he is so loved that he need not fear being tedious is the true lover of his audience. Moreover, what good are friends if they just come over for the sake of their own pleasure? Someone who prefers to hear a friend’s good book rather than to help make it good is a kind of voluptuary, and practically a stranger.

I don’t doubt that you are, given your friendship toward me, eager to read this new book as soon as possible. You will read it, but once it is corrected, which was the whole point of reciting it; indeed, you already know some of what is contained in it. You will find that these things have been edited or, as it often happens after a long delay, have deteriorated and been revised so as to make them wholly new again, for once so much has been changed, even what remains seems to have been changed too. Farewell.

AAAAAAYYYY I’m writin’ here!!!


Ut in vita sic in studiis pulcherrimum et humanissimum existimo severitatem comitatemque miscere, ne illa in tristitiam, haec in petulantiam excedat. Qua ratione ductus graviora opera lusibus iocisque distinguo. Ad hos proferendos et tempus et locum opportunissimum elegi, utque iam nunc assuescerent et ab otiosis et in triclinio audiri, Iulio mense, quo maxime lites interquiescunt, positis ante lectos cathedris amicos collocavi. Forte accidit ut eodem die mane in advocationem subitam rogarer, quod mihi causam praeloquendi dedit. Sum enim deprecatus, ne quis ut irreverentem operis argueret, quod recitaturus, quamquam et amicis et paucis, id est iterum amicis, foro et negotiis non abstinuissem. Addidi hunc ordinem me et in scribendo sequi, ut necessitates voluptatibus, seria iucundis anteferrem, ac primum amicis tum mihi scriberem. Liber fuit et opusculis varius et metris. Ita solemus, qui ingenio parum fidimus, satietatis periculum fugere. Recitavi biduo. Hoc assensus audientium exegit; et tamen ut alii transeunt quaedam imputantque quod transeant, sic ego nihil praetereo atque etiam non praeterire me dico. Lego enim omnia ut omnia emendem, quod contingere non potest electa recitantibus. At illud modestius et fortasse reverentius; sed hoc simplicius et amantius. Amat enim qui se sic amari putat, ut taedium non pertimescat; et alioqui quid praestant sodales, si conveniunt voluptatis suae causa? Delicatus ac similis ignoto est, qui amici librum bonum mavult audire quam facere. Non dubito cupere te pro cetera mei caritate quam maturissime legere hunc adhuc musteum librum. Leges, sed retractatum, quae causa recitandi fuit; et tamen non nulla iam ex eo nosti. Haec emendata postea vel, quod interdum longiore mora solet, deteriora facta quasi nova rursus et rescripta cognosces. Nam plerisque mutatis ea quoque mutata videntur, quae manent. Vale.

Leave a Reply