Advice for writers from an 18th century sage.

“If you have not the advantage of friends to survey your writings, then read them over yourself, and all the way consider what will be the sentence and judgment of all the various characters of mankind upon them:  think what one of your own party would say, or what would be the sense of an adversary; imagine what a curious or malicious man, what a captious or an envious critic, what a vulgar or a learned reader would object, either to the matter, the manner, or the style; and be sure  and think with yourself what you yourself could say against your own writing, if you were of a different opinion, or a stranger to the writer; and by these means you will obtain some hints whereby to correct and improve your own work, and to guard it to better against the censures of the public, as well as to render it more useful to that part of mankind for whom you chiefly design it.”

This paragraph is taken from “The Improvement of the Mind” by Issac Watts, published “many years” after the publication of his book on “Logic” in 1724.  Issac Watts believed it would be useful “to persons in younger years, who will favour them with a perusal, and who would seek the cultivation of their own understanding in the early days of life.”  Having the privilege of reading it and referring to it often, I doubt that many college graduates could grasp the content of this book which was originally written for children.  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “How to Raise Boys Who Read,” is a warning about the kind of books that are being read by young people.  The author of the article said, “When I was a young boy, America's elite schools and universities were almost entirely reserved for males. That seems incredible now, in an era when headlines suggest that boys are largely unfit for the classroom. In particular, they can't read.” The problem is not merely generational continuity.  The public consumption of books is the result of the availability of written material.  Issac Watts said the author of a book should “render it more useful to that part of mankind for whom you chiefly design it.”  Writers and publishers are, to some degree, responsible for the uneducated readers in this country.