In the preface to his 1523 "Ratio Verae Theologiae," Erasmus of Rotterdam pretended it was more trouble to give birth to a book than to a child:
"The apostle Paul does not disapprove of wedlock, but he threatens that those who involve themselves in matrimony will have tribulation according to the flesh, alluding no doubt to the anxieties which parents are obliged to undertake in the birth, nurture, and education of children and in placing them and promoting them in the world. And this, it seems to me, applies no less to those of us who, though physically barren, yet give birth from time to time to something in the way of books instead of children - except that our lot might seem not a little harder than theirs. For St Paul threatens them with nothing worse than tribulation of the flesh, while we are pursued by a two fold tribulation, of flesh and spirit. For we do not write our books without considerable expenditure both in resources and in health; though what a small part of our expense this is, when weighed against the cares of the mind! In fact, the lot of writers deserves more pity than the lot of parents, not only because they carry a double burden, but because in each field our troubles weigh heavier."*
One must take Erasmus tongue-in-cheek. I paraphrase from here. He compared the simple joy of conceiving a child with the difficulty of conceiving any subject worth writing. If a child is born with physical or mental abnormalities, the world loves the child no less and attributes no wrong to the parent. Yet an abnormal form or abnormal logic on printed pages will earn the world's ridicule and the author's rejection. If a child is born too soon, friends rush to the side of the parents while grand hospitals and a multitude of professionals diligently labor over the child's health, fawning over the little one each day and rightly so! If a book is published before it is ready, friends will keep a wide distance from both offspring and parent. And far from rushing to help, the literary workers will stand aghast. As the child grows, the parents will train their youth to please only one suitor. Should a solitary lover find the child enchanting, her parents have triumphed. No one faults the parents if all the world is disenchanted, so long as one spouse is pleased. Authors instead must bring up a book with the full knowledge that a multitude will find this offspring distasteful, heaping abuse on the writer for failing to bring forth that which would please each reader's particular frame.
To all those like Andy Savage, Paul Pavao, Steve Anderson, Brian Housman, Suzy Hayden, Bo Randle, Chris Kuhlman, and Tom Day who labor with the pen in full expectation of the difficulty it might bring, I salute your labor even if it does not match (as Erasmus playfully wrote) the troubles of childbirth. The world is improved as much by writers as any other craftsman. I look forward to your next work!
*"Collected Works of Erasmus, vol 10" translated by R.A.B. Mynors, University of Toronto Press, 1992, p 19.
"Book Birthing" by Matthew Bryan was first published at www.matthewbryan.net on February 19th, 2014. All rights are reserved.