Hilaire Belloc


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The ancient and honourable art of Reviewing is, without question, the most important branch of the great calling which we term the ‘Career of Letters.’

As it is the most important, so also it is the first which a man of letters should learn. It is at once his shield and his weapon. A thorough knowledge of Reviewing, both theoretical and applied, will give a man more popularity of power than he could have attained by the expenditure of a corresponding energy in any one of the liberal professions, with the possible exception of Municipal politics.

It forms, moreover, the foundation upon which all other literary work may be said to repose. Involving, as it does, the reading of a vast number of volumes, and the thorough mastery of a hundred wholly different subjects; training one to rapid, conclusive judgment, and to the exercise of a kind of immediate power of survey, it vies with cricket in forming the character of an Englishman. It is interesting to know that Charles Hawbuck was for some years principally occupied in Reviewing; and to this day some of our most important men will write, nay, and sign, reviews, as the press of the country testifies upon every side.

It is true that the sums paid for this species of literary activity are not large, and it is this fact which has dissuaded some of our most famous novelists and poets of recent years from undertaking Reviewing of any kind. But the beginner will not be deterred by such a consideration, and he may look forward, by way of compensation, to the ultimate possession of a large and extremely varied library, the accumulation of the books which have been given him to review. I have myself been presented with books of which individual volumes were sometimes worth as much as forty-two shillings to buy.

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