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4. The next point which we have to consider is the correction of our work, which is by far the most useful portion of our study: for there is good reason for the view that erasure is quite as important a [p. 111] function of the pen as actual writing. Correction takes the form of addition, excision and alteration. But it is a comparatively simple and easy task to decide what is to be added or excised. On the other hand, to prune what is turgid, to elevate what is mean, to repress exuberance, arrange what is disorderly, introduce rhythm where it is lacking, and modify it where it is too emphatic, involves a twofold labour. For we have to condemn what had previously satisfied us and discover what had escaped our notice. [2] There can be no doubt that the best method of correction is to put aside what we have written for a certain time, so that when we return to it after an interval it will have the air of novelty and of being another's handiwork; for thus we may prevent ourselves from regarding our writings with all the affection that we lavish on a newborn child. [3] But this is not always possible, especially in the case of an orator who most frequently has to write for immediate use, while some limit, after all, must be set to correction. For there are some who return to everything they write with the presumption that it is full of faults and, assuming that a first draft must necessarily be incorrect, think every change an improvement and make some alteration as often as they have the manuscript in their hands: they are, in fact, like doctors who use the knife even where the flesh is perfectly healthy. The result of their critical activities is that the finished work is full of scars, bloodless, and all the worse for their anxious care. [4] No! let there be something in all our writing which, if it does not actually please us, at least passes muster, so that the file may only polish our work, not wear it away. There must [p. 113] also be a limit to the time which we spend on its revision. For the fact that Cinna1 took nine years to write his Smyrna, and that Isocrates required ten years, at the lowest estimate, to complete his Panegyric does not concern the orator, whose assistance will be of no use, if it is so long delayed.

1 C. Helvius Cinna, the friend of Catullus. The Smyrna was a short but exceptionally obscure and learned epic.

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