This weekend I was introduced to an essay by Edgar Allen Poe, titled The Philosophy of Composition. The essay itself is mildly interesting; the comparatively less well-written Wikipedia entry conjectures the essay may have been intended as satire and in the alternative quotes a biographer of Poe describing it as “a rather highly ingenious exercise in the art of rationalization than literary criticism”. Content aside, the writing itself is worthy of note both for stylistic as well as historical reasons.
Most of the text I encounter can be easily skimmed, assimilated, and comprehended with a pittance of effort. The sentences are short, the words mundane. In Composition Poe has constructed, like an ancient cathedral-builder, clauses that build one upon the other, mortared with m-dash and comma alike. To place it beside modern literature is to expose current authorship as little more than a rudimentary scraping of foundations, topped in the best of cases by a mean mud hut.