Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory
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Book 10 - Chapter 4

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Observations on correction; we must not indulge in it too much.

1. NEXT follows correction, which is by far the most useful part of our studies, for it is believed, and not without reason, that the pen is not least serviceable when it is used to erase. Of correction, there are three ways: to add, to take away, and to alter. In regard, however, to what is to be added or taken away, the decision is comparatively easy and simple, but to compress what is tumid, to raise what is low, to prune what is luxuriant, to regulate what is ill-arranged, to give compactness to what is loose, to circumscribe what is extravagant, is a twofold task, for we must reject things that had pleased us and find out others that had escaped us. 2. Undoubtedly, also, the best method for correction is to lay by for a time what we have written, so that we may return to it, after an interval, as if it were something new to us and written by another, lest our writings, like new-born infants, compel us to fix our affections on them.

3. But this cannot always be done, especially by the orator, who must frequently write for present purposes. Correction must therefore have its limits, for there are some who return to whatever they compose as if they presumed it to be incorrect. As if nothing could be right that has presented itself first, they think whatever is different from it is better and find something to correct as often as they take up their manuscript, like surgeons who make incisions even in sound places. Hence it happens that their writings are, so to speak, scarred and bloodless, and rendered worse by the remedies applied. Let what we write, therefore, sometimes please, or at least content us, that the file may polish our work and not wear it to nothing. To the time, too, allowed for correction, there must be a limit. As to what we hear about Cinna's Zmyrna, that it occupied nine years in writing, and about the Panegyric of Isocrates, which they who assign the shortest period to its production assert to have been ten years in being finished, it is of no import to the orator, whose aid would be useless if it were so long in coming.


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Lee Honeycutt (honeycuttlee@gmail.com) Last modified:5/17/06
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