142.: mill to ricardo1[Reply to 140.—Answered by 143] - David Ricardo, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 6 Letters 1810-1815 
The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. Piero Sraffa with the Collaboration of M.H. Dobb (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). Vol. 6 Letters 1810-1815.
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mill to ricardo
[Reply to 140.—Answered by 143]
Ford Abbey Decr. 1st. 1815
Marginal contents, to make them the most useful, should be written, on only one side of the leaf. You can then have more of them under your eye at once—which is of great use, for seeing more easily how the paragraphs stand affected to one another—whether any of them is in substance only the same with any other—whether any of them is inconsistent with any other—whether any of them stand conjoined, which would be more useful in another situation, and so on—whether any thing is wanting to make out the point, which it is the business of the section to state or to prove.
You will see, that in writing the marginal contents I now send you, I left the column, next to that on which I had written, always blank; in order to insert in it any of the remarks I might have to make, on the contents of the preceding column.
The paragraphs are numbered both in the text and in the marginals—so that you may easily refer from the one to the other.
Perhaps you will think proper to recast the first section, keeping in your view, while writing, the individual point which you desire to establish in it. The writing will thus acquire a fixity of direction, and hence an order, and a pointedness, which it never possesses, when one is writing without a very precise and definite purpose. In this consists, generally, the advantage of writing any thing twice over. In the first writing, one is generally studying the subject—looking out for ideas—and then the unity of object, and fixity of direction, are impossible. The advantage is, when all the ideas are on paper, then to put them together in their proper parcels, and when they are so put up as that every parcel forms a distinct article, to write upon each article, so defined and distinguished, individually, one after another—and then arises the consummation of excellence. This is what you must do with the opus magnum. In the first writing, be not very solicitous about any thing, but about getting out all the ideas which appear to you to bear upon the subject, and to be conducive to its elucidation. When this is done, we shall have no great difficulty in marshaling them, and putting each in the place in which it will receive most light from others and shed most light upon them.
In beginning to write you will find it no slight help to invention to suppose yourself writing to a friend, of ordinary understanding, to whom you have it very much at heart to impart a complete knowledge of the subject upon which you are writing. You should suppose his mind to be in the state of an average man among those whom you expect to be your readers; and set down every thing which you think will be necessary to introduce all your own ideas into his mind: beginning with such things as he is likely to know, or acknowledge, and so passing on to others. You will, at the same time find a use in making to yourself a sort of skeleton of your ideas, before you begin to write. Beginning, for example, on the subject of rent, you should try into what propositions you can throw the ideas which seem to constitute the doctrine of rent—as for example—what is the cause of rent—on what circumstances does the operation of that cause depend—what makes it operate more productively, what less: its effects also become causes which are to be explained and so on. When these matters are written down in short notes, they remain in your eye—and operate very usefully in suggesting ideas.
To return to the M.S. I have not stopped to make any observations on the expressions. In general they are very good. I should however like to run it over before you send it to the press—merely to take security that no imperfect expression, which it is so difficult for an unpracticed writer to be sure that he has avoided, has escaped you. And even this very trifling danger you will soon be above.
I am perfectly aware of your objection to long titles for short sections—and those who dislike your conclusions will make it—but I think it ought to be disregarded—not but that it is always an advantage to make a title short, if it can be done without detriment to the instructiveness—but we must not sacrifice to mauvaise honte, any portion of that on which the fulfilment of our main purpose depends. The titles I have set down, I never meant to stand—they are only rough expressions to explain by examples what I meant. You must on each occasion devise a title for yourself. Perhaps you may even approve a different division and arrangement. In that case you are to follow your own ideas.—Your modesty might even be made an apology for your titles. You might say in your introduction: that a more practiced writer, who could be more sure of giving the due degree of light and prominence to his ideas, might write straight forward; and disregard the didactic helps of divisions and titles; but that you cannot afford to deprive yourself of any expedient which has been found by experience to be conducive to instruction: And, as you do not aim at eloquence, that didactic expedients ought not in your writings to appear a deformity. The French writers have understood the use of frequent divisions, and distinct titles, better than the English —Observe how very frequent they are in Voltaire, and Montesquieu, and how often the title is nearly as long as the section.
Mr. Hume writes to me how much he was gratified with your attention. He goes to the continent with his lady on the 10th—and proposes to see the principal parts of France and Italy before he returns, when he shall endeavour he says to renew his acquaintance with you. He is to be back early in the summer.—We shall be here for a fortnight, or perhaps three weeks. I am glad I shall see you so soon in London. I was going to be jocular upon the rapid flights of your lady. But if the health of Mrs. M. is in such a state the matter is too serious.
Gods blessing to all of you.