Letter 057, pg. 4
So, if I have to demonstrate my honesty by criticizing you, I would rather criticize your editorial in “This Week” magazine where you wrote on “knowing the time to quit.” If you remember, I objected to it—and you cited “Life’s Too Short” as an example of a case where an author should accept the negative verdict of several editors. I said then that I didn’t believe this—and I say it more strongly now. I am afraid that you are thinking of the time when editors were still men of integrity, discernment and achievement, and their opinion could be considered respectfully. We are long past that time. There are still a few editors of that caliber left, but very, very few. The rest? Well . . .
What makes me want to scream in this case, is the insidious injustice of the whole process. Our Red “intellectuals” and our editors play upon the best instincts of our authors in order to destroy them. It is only the completely mediocre writer who never entertains any doubts on the value of his work. The man of talent is always more severe with his own writing than any outside critic could ever be. A good writer’s first instinct is always to blame himself. His own scrupulous honesty makes it difficult for him to accuse others of dishonesty or injustice. And thus, if his work is rejected repeatedly, he accepts the verdict, even when, in all sincerity, he can find no fault in his work; he simply accepts that he must have failed somewhere. He prefers to doubt his own standards rather than the ethics of editors. Thus, in his own mind, he completes for them their dirty work.
So what I want to criticize is not “Life’s Too Short”, but its author’s attitude towards it. I think this work should be completed and published. I cannot advise you to undertake the struggle—because I know it will be a hard one. But if you are too busy with other work to complete “Life’s Too Short”—then, I think, you owe to it at least the acknowledgment of its value in your own mind. You must consider it a victim of the immense injustice of our century. You must not help the second-raters in power by granting them the benefit of the doubt at the expense of your own work, at the cost of vindicating their bad judgment by questioning your own. Of course, personally, I wish you would finish “Life’s Too Short” and make them publish it.
And—I think it is best not to advise young people to learn when to quit. They could learn it in a society of honest men, where the positions of authority and decision are held by men whose judgment can be respected. The kind of society we had yesterday. That is not what we have today. Today — young people have to go through a living hell and rely on nothing but their own faith in themselves. At the price of a thousand self-deluding mediocrities, I