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Rien n’est beau que le vrai : le vrai seul est aimable ;
Il doit régner partout, et même dans la fable :
De toute fiction l’adroite fausseté
Ne tend qu’à faire aux yeux briller la vérité.
Sais-tu pourquoi mes vers sont lus dans les provinces,
Sont recherchés du peuple, et reçus chez les princes ?
Ce n’est pas que leurs sons, agréables, nombreux,
Soient toujours à l’oreille également heureux ;
Qu’en plus d’un lieu le sens n’y gêne la mesure,
Et qu’un mot quelquefois n’y brave la césure :
Mais c’est qu’en eux le vrai, du mensonge vainqueur,
Partout se montre aux yeux et va saisir le cœur ;
Que le bien et le mal y sont prisés au juste ;
Quejamais un faquin n’y tint un rang auguste ;
Et que mon cœur, toujours conduisant mon esprit,
Ne dit rien aux lecteurs qu’à soi-même il n’ait dit.
Ma pensée au grand jour partout s’offre et s’expose,
Et mon vers, bien ou mal, dit toujours quelque chose.
Nothing is beautiful but the true: the true alone is agreeable;
It must reign everywhere, even in the fable:
The well-turned falsity of all fiction
Serves only to make the truth more readily seen.
Do you know why they read my verses in the countryside?
Why do the people seek them out, indeed, even princes?
It is not simply that they varied and are pleasing to the ear,
Nor because a word occasionally defies the measure:
Rather it is because in them the true vanquishes the false,
Shines through them all and lays hold the heart;
It is because the good and evil are taken in correct measure;
Because never does a scoundrel receive an august position;
And because my heart, always leading my mind,
Says nothing to the readers that it has not already said to itself.
My thought offers and presents itself clearly,
And my verse, good or bad, always has something to say.
–Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, Épître IX (1695) in Œuvres, vol. 11, pp. 111-12 (St Surin ed. 1821)(S.H. transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”