A General Rule for Writers

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Sydney Smith’s advice to a writer: As a general rule, run your pen through every other word you have written; you have no idea what vigor it will give your style.

The Vast Melting Pot

No one ever captured the poetry and mystery of the city of Pittsburgh better than Mary Roberts Rinehart, one of the bestselling American authors of all time, who lived here when she wrote her famous mysteries. Here is the opening of her novel A Poor Wise Man, first published in 1920.

The city turned its dreariest aspect toward the railway on blackened walls, irregular and ill-paved streets, gloomy warehouses, and over all a gray, smoke-laden atmosphere which gave it mystery and often beauty. Sometimes the softened towers of the great steel bridges rose above the river mist like fairy towers suspended between Heaven and earth. And again the sun tipped the surrounding hills with gold, while the city lay buried in its smoke shroud, and white ghosts of river boats moved spectrally along.

Sometimes it was ugly, sometimes beautiful, but always the city was powerful, significant, important. It was a vast melting pot. Through its gates came alike the hopeful and the hopeless, the dreamers and those who would destroy those dreams. From all over the world there came men who sought a chance to labor. They came in groups, anxious and dumb, carrying with them their pathetic bundles, and shepherded by men with cunning eyes.

Raw material, for the crucible of the city, as potentially powerful as the iron ore which entered the city by the same gate.

The city took them in, gave them sanctuary, and forgot them. But the shepherds with the cunning eyes remembered.

Unalterable Affection for Matrimony

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From the curious work by Edward Lewis, M.A., whose title page appears above. It should be noted that the Rector of Waterstock and Emington, in Oxfordshire, is entirely innocent of irony.

Sect. XXIX.
Henry’s unalterable affection for matrimony. Vindicated against Hume.

Few princes have given stronger proofs of their unalterable affection to God’s holy ordinance of matrimony than Henry VIII…

Lost Illusions

We naturally lose illusions as we get older, like teeth, but there is no one to fit a new set into our understandings. I have, alas! only one illusion left, and that is the Archbishop of Canterbury.

——Sydney Smith

Anthony Trollope Sells a Novel

Early in 1858, while I was writing Doctor Thorne, I was asked by the great men at the General Post Office to go to Egypt to make a treaty with the Pasha for the conveyance of our mails through that country by railway. There was a treaty in existence, but that had reference to the carriage of bags and boxes by camels from Alexandria to Suez. Since its date the railway had grown, and was now nearly completed, and a new treaty was wanted. So I came over from Dublin to London, on my road, and again went to work among the publishers. The other novel was not finished; but I thought I had now progressed far enough to arrange a sale while the work was still on the stocks. I went to Mr. Bentley and demanded 400,—for the copyright. He acceded, but came to me the next morning at the General Post Office to say that it could not be. He had gone to work at his figures after I had left him, and had found that 300 would be the outside value of the novel. I was intent upon the larger sum; and in furious haste,—for I had but an hour at my disposal,—I rushed to Chapman & Hall in Piccadilly, and said what I had to say to Mr. Edward Chapman in a quick torrent of words. They were the first of a great many words which have since been spoken by me in that back-shop. Looking at me as he might have done at a highway robber who had stopped him on Hounslow Heath, he said that he supposed he might as well do as I desired. I considered this to be a sale, and it was a sale. I remember that he held the poker in his hand all the time that I was with him;—but in truth, even though he had declined to buy the book, there would have been no danger.

——Autobiography, chapter 7.