John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Mr. Hawthorne's caution
He loses, in an extent proportioned to the weakness or force of his original nature, the capability of self-support. If he possesses an unusual share of native energy, or the enervating magic of place do not operate too long upon him, his forfeited powers may be redeemable. The ejected officer [read journalist] — fortunate in the unkindly shove that sends him forth betimes, to struggle amid a struggling world — may return to himself, and become all that he has ever been. But this seldom happens. He usually keeps his ground just long enough for his own ruin, and is then thrust out, with sinews all unstrung, to totter along the difficult footpath of life as best he may. Conscious of his own infirmity, — that his tempered steel and elasticity are lost, — he for ever afterwards looks wistfully about him in quest of support external to himself. His pervading and continual hope — a hallucination, which, in the face of all discouragement, and making light of impossibilities, haunts him while he lives, and, I fancy, like the convulsive throes of the cholera, torments him for a brief space after death — is, that, finally, and in no long time, by some happy coincidence of circumstances, he shall be restored to office [read employment in journalism]. This faith, more than any thing else, steals the pith and availability out of whatever enterprise he may dream of undertaking.*
You need not be alarmed, gentle reader; for my part, I am far from tottering after my own unkindly shove last April, and I retain possession of a fair quantity of my original tempered steel and elasticity, as any employer who has the wit to engage my services will quickly discern.
*This excerpt constitutes about half of a paragraph. No doubt we can expect to hear some discourse on Hawthorne’s defects as a writer from the anonymous commenter who called me “verbose” and urged me to cut my posts by a third.