WITH EVERY NEW article posted, the automatic machinery at wordpress.com spits out one of several quotations on the subject of writing, doubtless meant to be inspirational to the writer who, having just finished an article, is presumably past the point of needing inspiration. One of the quotations in the rotation is this:
Easy reading is damn hard writing.
Dr. Boli would like to pose a simple question to anyone who has ever read Hawthorne (and, merciful heavens, is there anyone in the United States of America who has not read Hawthorne, either willingly or under compulsion?): Does this sound like something Nathaniel Hawthorne would say?
Dr. Boli did not think so himself. A bit of research finds that this quotation is attributed to Hawthorne all over the Internet, but the source, if it is cited, is always some Internet collection of inspiring quotations. Fortunately, the editors of Hawthorne’s Wikiquote page have looked into the matter and provided this information (which is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike License):
Also attributed to Ernest Hemingway and others; the earliest definite occurrence of this yet found in research for Wikiquote is by Maya Angelou, who stated it in Conversations With Maya Angelou (1989) edited by Jeffrey M. Elliot:
I think it’s Alexander Pope who says, “Easy writing is damn hard reading,” and vice versa, easy reading is damn hard writing
The statement she referred to is most probably:
You write with ease, to show your breeding,
But easy writing’s curst hard reading
—Clio’s Protest, or the Picture Varnished (written 1771, published 1819) by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Let us therefore hear no more of this spurious Hawthorne quotation (although the Sheridan couplet deserves wider exposure). Dr. Boli would like to close with another quotation from a more reliable source:
“Never trust the attribution of a quotation you find on the Internet until you find the original source in Google Books.”