This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.
This simple and amusing piece of irony is one of very few articles in the series published without illustrations. See also Samuel’s ‘A Literary Aspirant’, 15 January 1887. Samuel now lets us know that he lives in Bradford or Leeds in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and he makes a somewhat macabre link with Cardiff by mentioning James Berry (1852–1913), hangman from 1884-1892, who was from the West Riding ,and was well known in Cardiff from the botched hanging there of David Roberts on the 2nd of March 1886, which resulted in a slow death by strangulation. The abbreviation ‘S. and B.’ has not been traced. —David Skilton
My first advice to all literary aspirants, sir, would be – don't write at all, that is for the publishers. I have in my time known Editors (and he is a great and a powerful man is an Editor) who have regretted that they ever began writing – I have known them go out and leave an unfortunate paper to right (hem! write) itself. The most difficult thing about writing, sir, is how to begin, and the next most difficult thing perhaps, is how to stop – I don't mean punctuate, of course. I know one author who says that it doesn't matter what is in the middle of an article so long as you begin it wittily and unconventionally and end it up with a ‘bang’; he, in fact, represents an article to be somewhat analogous to a railway station refreshment room sandwich, very nice to look at outside (with its little bit of fresh parsley at the top, you know), but a mere swindle as regards the centre. (By-the way, have you heard that the Corporation of Leeds are buying up all the unsold sandwiches at the stations in order to pave Commercial-street with them when the present wooden pavement wants renewing?) I don't know about all my friend's articles ending up with a ‘bang,’ but I know one of them did – one in which a man who could knock down a punching machine in a fair every time he struck at it called on the author in question. The author found himself the bang-ee – the other gentleman being the bang-or, as the lawyers would say.
But I started with the intention of giving a few words of advice to literary aspirants. Well, then, first of all they should undoubtedly begin by writing poetry. It is both easier to ‘knock off’ (if I can use such a term in connection with the muse) and is more likely to meet with a warm reception (probably even a fiery reception) when it is finished than is mere vulgar prose. The general run of Editors simply gasp for poetry; they can’t live without it, though they often wish they could. Let the aspirant call on an average Editor and see for himself whether this is not true – if the poet's verses don't halt it is highly probable that he will, for a week or two. Poems about the seasons are always the most acceptable form of verse; they are so uncommon. Poems on Spring, it is true, have been written once or twice, but singular to say the authors have seldom lived long after calling on editor, with them. It is a notable fact, by the way. that poets often die young, the reason being, no doubt, that they got so well paid that they are induced to live too well, and naturally contract diseases of the liver. A poet really ought not to have a liver at all. A poet can often live without brains, and I don't see why be shouldn't dispense with a liver as well. I would warn the youthful poet always to demand remuneration for his works, and lest some grasping editor should endeavour to quote a false rate of payment, I would inform the aspirant to poetic honours that the usual scale for poets is a guinea a line, headlines included. Perhaps you would say, touching this latter technical term, that every line that comes from the head must necessarily be a headline, but that is not so.
The aspirant should always, in writing to an editor for the first time, talk about the latter's ‘influential organ,’ or his ‘widely circulating medium,’ or his ‘ valuable journal.’ This is a most original wrinkle; editors are so unused to this sort of thing that they will be quite struck with the novelty of such a form of address. Always, my good aspirants, assure them that the article you send is one calculated to make the fortune of the paper. Such an assurance makes them feel comfortable in their minds – they can send your communication up the hoist to the foreman printer, and then sleep a sweet editorial slumber on a pile of back numbers – fully realising that all is well. Take care to remark in your introductory letter on the extreme value of their space – and then, with refreshing unselfishness, offer them an article estimated to fill about three of their columns. Remark that you have ‘thrown the thing off’ in an interval of leisure, and that they had better just make a few alterations in the spelling, the grammar, the composition, and the diction. They will take a suggestion like this as a high compliment, and if you did not make it they might be afraid to touch your story or article lest they should spoil it. It is quite unnecessary to put a stamp on the envelope enclosing your contribution: editors like to see thrift in an amateur scribe, and very often they would, under such circumstances, like to see the amateur scribe, too. They would probably confer a stamp or two upon him if they met him. It is often well to state the whole of your family circumstances in your preliminary epistle to an editor. If, for instance, you confess that you have ‘taken up’ (as though it were a malefactor) literature in order that you may maintain your mother-in-law, the editor to whom you send will almost inevitably accept your work, he will deem you such an extraordinary man. Editors are strangely susceptible when appeals are made to their finer feelings.
Always pen your effusions on both sides of the paper, and you can even cross the lines if you like. This will ensure for you popularity with the sub-editor and the printer, who, being persons who have usually lots of time on their hands, like to solve verbal riddles just by way of pastime. Never write a legible hand if you can help it, for legibility is quite incompatible with literary genius. It is only commonplace people who want to be intelligible. I forgot to mention to you, my sweet aspirant, that in sending your first contribution it is often well to let the editor know that in the event of his inserting your communication, you, backed by your rich and influential friends, are quite willing to buy a dozen copies (at wholesale price) of the paper containing the gem of your providing. If the editor be a man who can be bought, this plan is sure to fetch him. It is well to always study appropriateness in sending articles to papers and magazines, so take care to nicely adapt your contribution to the organ you deign to patronise with your inspirations. Thus, if you have a good comic article of the ‘fast,’ life- about-town, pets-of-the-ballet, S. and B. order, despatch it immediately to The Rock, or the Christian Globe, or some other we-won’t-go-home-till-morning sort of paper. In the same way, if you have a nice, heavy, psychologicaJ, one-at-bedtime, didactic sort of literary sketch, send it at once to Punch, or one of the other graveyard organs. They are used to heavy matter, and seem to be able to do with any amount of it. If you be a writer of romances based upon horrid, ghastly criminals who have actually expired, and after murdering a score or two of people (it is quite immaterial how many – except to the victims) have finally expiated their crimes by breakfasting with Berry, by all means send it to a so-called ‘family’ paper. Such papers are simply hungry for this species of tale just now, and they will pay you well at so much per crime, so mind and mix the murder, manslaughter, and general marauding as thick as ever you can.
If you follow these directions carefully you may have something inserted – it may be a shoe-toe in the small of your back, but persevere with editors, and you will either conquer or die – probably the latter. Once you have bad a small paragraph, say (very much cut up and altered since you sent it in, it is true) in a paper or magazine, you can then go about saying that you are an author, and referring mysteriously to your works; you can go to theatres and demand free admission or an occasional order, which latter you will doubtless get – an order to clear out – and you can actually wear your hair long without anybody suggesting that you should get a pen'north off.
Let me counsel you, if an editor persistently omits to reply to your communication enclosing a contribution, and your reminders to him that you have so honoured him – stand no nonsense; write in to him telling him that he is jealous of rising talent, that he is a hireling scribbler who is wholly incapable of fulfilling editorial duties, and that you shall certainly cease to pay your penny a week for his ribald sheet. This last item will fetch him, if anything will; he will, on reading so dire and dreadful a threat, put a period (he is used to periods) to his miserable existence by hacking at his throat with the editorial shears, by drinking copying ink, or by sealing himself in a living tomb with the aid of stickphast [paste] applied to the jambs of the door.
Last modified 27 February 2022