An Open Letter to Crayon Bleu

— A contributor, who has had some slight — and only slight — acquaintance with the blue pencil of the proof-reader, sends the following amiable remonstrance touching his severity. We ourselves owe him nothing but thanks. When he insists too strongly on excluding the duplicate word, — a matter of no moment, — we forgive him, for the sake of the hundred times he has saved us from falling into very deep verbal pits. We are far from holding that “ a quotation slightly inexact is sometimes rendered more telling and poignant,” though the inexact quotation instanced by the contributor must have been “ poignant ” enough to the quoter when he discovered its — inexactness. He would have been prevented from committing wholesale homicide if the proof-reader had exercised a little more of that patient care for which he is now reproached. We take exception to another point made by our ingenious contributor, whose practice is happily finer than his theory. If it is necessary to write carelessly in order to promote “ the flexibility of the language,” it occurs to us that “ flexibility ” is very dearly paid for — by the reader. We have noticed that certain authors have written with approximate correctness without becoming either purists or pedants. But we are wrong in taking our contributor au grand sérieux; he is slyly heaping the most delicate flatteries on Monsieur Crayon Bleu : —

AUGUST SIR, — By the consensus of the Club, I am permitted to address you a letter of remonstrance upon a subject whose agitation should, in my judgment, result to the advantage both of professional and of casual littérateurs.

Favored as you are, from time to time, with the opportunity of examining our MSS. (I speak in behalf of the entire literary body), whether these be in prose or verse, whether designed for periodical or book issues, your Cerulean Excellency scarcely needs to be reminded that your position is one of great privilege, — nothing beneath that of king’s taster ; for the public is your king, and depends upon you to supply its intellectual sustenance, trusting you to provide that which shall neither poison nor pall. The remonstrance which we desire to offer is based upon the known fact that you, as purveyor for the king’s table, are far too fastidious, needlessly circumspect. In what respects, allow me to particularize.

In the work which we writers throw off in the white heat of inspiration, it sometimes chances that a predicate (plural) will leave its subject (singular) in the lurch. You must be aware that we stand not alone in this petty offense ; the great masters of the language have distinguished themselves by like lapses, — and this not so rarely but that we are kept in countenance. Nevertheless, you do not spare to brand with your azure stigma all our little slips by the way, whether they be disagreeing verb and subject, negatives in too friendly conjunction, or merely the harmless recurrence of huts, yets, ands, thes. or other similar prompt monosyllables. We believe that a too scrupulous correctness in these particulars is not only needless, but is even of positive detriment to that public for whom you so carefully cater; since instead of promoting the flexibility of the language by admitting examples of graceful license in good writers, — contemporary classics, — you, by restricting these, do but encourage the race of purists and precisians, ever the bane of a racy and idiomatic style. But our chief remonstrance touches other more serious matters. How is it that you have conceived such antipathy against the choicest treasures of our diction that, if the same specimen occurs upon two consecutive pages of our manuscript, down falls your obliterating mace upon one of the offending duplicates, and we in consequence are obliged to search our jewelbox for something that will fill out the gap ? We have remarked also your extreme aversion for fine writing, and especially for certain adjectives. You do not like delectable, quaint, dainty, lush, debonair, and you offer no conditions to eerie, and eldritch, and grewsome. You do not encourage fine writing ; permit us also to say that you evince but small appreciation for humorous writing; else why do our keenest quips, our most irresistible jovialities, come back to us, struck through with the indigo barb of disapprobation ?

Above all, we allege that you hamper us, quite unnecessarily, by compelling verification of every doubtful quotation occurring in our manuscripts. If the quotation has been made from some one of the ancients, — a dead language, a dead author, — to whom is injury done, if the text is not quite accurately cited ? Perhaps the public is no more au fait in its Latin and Greek than we are, or than was one William Shakespeare. Moreover, a quotation slightly inexact is sometimes rendered the more telling and poignant. Such an instance we recall, where the inadvertence of the writer, or of yourself, dear Crayon Bleu, — or was it the printer’s devil ? (a blue devil he !), — let slip into type the following variant of Emerson’s The Test: —

“ I hung’ my verses in the wind,
Time and tide their faults may find.
All were winnowed through and through,
Five lines lasted sound and true;
Five men smelted in a pot,
Than the South more fierce and hot.”

Respectfully submitted by a