Concise…

 

Apropos of editing, Rudyard Kipling advises the writer to use a camel-hair brush, dip it in Indian ink and ‘In an auspicious hour, read your final draft and consider faithfully every paragraph, sentence and word, blacking out where requisite.’

Then, he says, put the draft aside for as long as possible. ‘At the end of that time, re-read and you should find that it will bear a second shortening. Finally, read it aloud alone and at leisure. Maybe a shade more brushwork will then indicate or impose itself.’

He says he kept some of his own stories for five years, and they shortened themselves almost yearly. (Something of Myself, Macmillan 1937, p. 208f.)

This, then, was the modus scribendi of that master of conciseness. C.S.Lewis said he sometimes recoiled from it: ‘I think Kipling used the Indian ink too much… Every sentence that did not seem to Kipling perfectly and triumphantly good has been removed. As result the style tends to be too continuously and obtrusively brilliant. The result is a little fatiguing. Our author gives us no rest: we are bombarded with felicities till they deafen us. There is no elbow room, no leisureliness. We need roughage as well as nourishment in a diet; but there is no roughage in a Kipling story—it is all unrelieved vitamins from the first word to the last.’ (Kipling’s World, in Selected Literary Essays, CUP 1969, p. 233)

Does the diction of the breviloquent Tacitus have a similar effect on readers? Some students find it to be almost dizzying, or intoxicating.

Christina S. Kraus calls it ‘…a dazzling, challenging Latin that demands repeated readings. It is a Latin whose deceptive surface conceals hidden meaning, like the world about which Tacitus is writing.’  It is a world, she suggests, in which the all-powerful Emperor ‘has himself become a dangerous new text which demands, yet frustrates, correct reading.’  (Literature in the Roman World , ed.Taplin, OUP 2000, p. 180.)

G. O. Hutchinson goes further: ‘His epigrams, dry and reserved, strengthen feeling through understatement and contrast. They also provide a mode for giving the writer authority, and for elevating him intellectually and morally above the world that dominates his narrative: so coolly and unanswerably do they probe and assert, and with such control and detachment does the wit organise historical reality.’ (Latin Literature from Seneca to Juvenal, OUP 1993, pp. 104-5).

E.C. Marchant commented in 1928: ‘The peculiar style that we associate with Tacitus, marked by extreme brevity, intentional avoidance of balance, and poetical expressions, was gradually evolved by him from the Agricola onwards, and reaches its extreme only in the Annals… It is a style inimitable, astonishing, brilliant. Familiarity, so far from breeding contempt, but heightens our admiration. Utterly different as the two writers are, Tacitus disputes the palm with Cicero for prose composition.’ (Higher Unprepared Latin, G.Bell & Sons).

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