Writing advice from 1605

Now, as your sole aim in writing, is to invalidate the authority, and ridicule the absurdity of those books of chivalry, which have, as it were, fascinated the eyes and judgment of the world, and in particular of the vulgar, you have no occasion to go a begging maxims from philosophers, exhortations from holy writ, fables from poets, speeches from orators, or miracles from saints;

your business is, with plain, significant, well chosen and elegant words, to render your periods sonorous, and your stile entertaining; to give spirit and expression to all your descriptions, and communicate your ideas without obscurity and confusion.

You must endeavour to write in such a manner as to convert melancholy into mirth, increase good humour, entertain the ignorant, excite the admiration of the learned, escape the contempt of gravity, and attract applause from persons of ingenuity and taste. Finally, let your aim be levelled against that ill-founded bulwark of idle books of chivalry, abhorred by many, but applauded by more, which if you can batter down, you will have atchieved no inconsiderable exploit.
-from the ‘Preface to the Reader’ in Don Quixote by Cervantes
[paragraph spacing is mine for emphasis and clarity]
Milan Kundera might fight me on this but I think the final section about increasing good humor and making people happy makes the case for all sorts of books that merely ‘entertain.’ Although the following sentence does present an opportunity for a Kundera counter-attack: are the books of chivalry Cervantes references equivalent to the useless books Kundera thinks are beneath an artist’s time and ability? Hmm…
I really like the advice about description and communicating ideas. I always vote for clarity over extreme subtlety.

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