I was reading a book when I came accross a section which cited the following text from Quintilian, a Roman rhetoric writer. The following excerpt serves as a context: "Undoubtedly... the best method for correction is to lay by for a time what we have written, so that we may return to if after an interval as if it were something new to us, and written by another, lest our writings like newborn infants compel us to fix our affections on them."

The bold highlighted section made me curious. What is the meaning of this?

I do understand the meaning of the text. It basically says, that you need to get some distance from what you wrote, in order to enhance the writing and evaluate your own words as if they were written by someone else.

Any help is appreciated!

Thank you in advance.

  • Babies' faces are biologically programmed to be appealing to the majority of adults, to make us instinctively want to care for them. Quintilian is saying that a passage we have just written usually seems good to us in the same way that a newborn baby seems wonderful to its parents. Mar 15, 2017 at 9:00
  • It seems to me that he is saying that badly expressed thoughts distract us. Normally when people express themselves clearly we need not focus on the actual wording. But when babies babble, and when other people express themselves badly, we become conscious of the effort to figure out what they want. Perhaps there's also an image of the careless expression tumbling into the world like a newborn vs. the considered expression maturing like a growing child.
    – Chaim
    Mar 15, 2017 at 12:48
  • Perhaps you are not reading the parenthetical expression as the author intended: "...lest our writings, like newborn infants, compel us to fix our affections on them." With parentheses: "... lest our writings (just like newborn infants would) compel us to fix our affections on them." Mar 15, 2017 at 18:33
  • When you create something you love, a child or a wonderful piece of writing, it's too easy to get wrapped up in it. Enamored of it. Too enamored and too wrapped up to see its flaws. You have to give yourself distance from your writing so your love for the work you just creates doesn't blind you to places it can be improved. Or, to use a more modern phrasing of this classic advice to writers, you have to murder your darlings.
    – Dan Bron
    May 14, 2017 at 12:10
  • A poor translation. At the very least "like newborn infants" is a parenthetical phrase and should be set apart with commas.
    – Hot Licks
    May 14, 2017 at 12:46

1 Answer 1


Another rendering:

for thus we may prevent ourselves from regarding our writings with all the affection that we lavish on a newborn child. Harold Edgeworth Butler

There is the tendency to be less than objective about one's own work, until it can be examined after the mind has cleared from the effort.
Very few people can set down exactly what they want without constantly checking to see that it IS what is wanted,
Quintilian makes the point that we tend to see our work differently when first "finished". Of course, like a newborn, the work is not "finished". It need be matured.

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