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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

On an editorial creed

The difficulty of the first address on any new occasion isfelt by every man in his transactions with the world, andconfessed by the settled and regular forms of salutationwhich necessity has introduced into all languages. Judgmentwas wearied with the perplexity of being forced uponchoice, where there was no motive to preference; and it wasfound convenient that some easy method of introductionshould be established, which, if it wanted the allurementof novelty, might enjoy the security of prescription.Perhaps few authors have presented themselves beforethe publick, without wishing that such ceremonial modesof entrance had been anciently established, as might havefreed them from those dangers which the desire of pleasingis certain to produce, and precluded the vain expedients ofsoftening censure by apologies, or rousing attention byabruptness. THE THOUGHTS EXPRESSED by Samuel Johnson in theinaugural issue of his weekly journal The Rambler(b 1750, d 1752) are familiar to all those rashenough to embark upon an editorial journey; thenature of the periodical in question, and even the fact ofprevious publication, alter little the nature of such virginalsentiments. To some extent, however, The Actuary doeshave a ceremonial mode of entrance established: it is customaryfor new editors to mark the start of their editorialimpermanence with due notice of the appointment,coupled perhaps with some statement of intention.This intention is simple to relate: to apply this modestoffice to the improvement of the profession’s health andwisdom, however slight might be such improvement.That a new editor of The Actuary should wish to enrich theprofession in some way is neither greatly interesting norgreatly surprising; more interesting it is to conjecture howsuch a desire may best be achieved.An editor has various ways of controlling how his (orher) publication expresses itself: in the choice of articlescommissioned, in the choice of submitted articles to bepublished, in the editing and presentation of publishedarticles, and in the writing of editorials. The first three ofthese are ‘invisible’ means to incarnate the editorial spirit,while the fourth presents, all too obviously, a most visibleaspect. As far as the three invisible means are concerned,my statements of intent are not particularly startling: articleswill be commissioned that might usefully increase therange of ‘inputs’ to our actuarial thinking and commercialawareness, and that might offer new perspectives; articleswill be published that evince originality of thought andelegance of expression; articles will be shorn of meaninglessjargon and brutal solecisms and, of course, irritatinglylong, archaic quotations (ahem). None of these declarationsrepresents a significant distancing from what hasbeen done under the sterling editorship of Conor Dolan.And as for editorials, what creed should an editor profess?It would be pleasant for novitiate editors to be able to settheir compasses with the aid of some didactic editorialscripture. It would be pleasant, but… paradoxically, thewriting of editorials, despite the literary nature of theactivity, has given rise to almost no literature. Unlike thecase in most other fields of pleasure or industry, from Nileexploration and marmalade manufacture to nun-runningand matchbox-collecting, we do not generally find theworld’s editors and ex-editors flocking to write books ofadvice, instruction, or general verbiage about the art.Consider that most literary of editors, Charles Dickens:he launched his own weekly journal Household Words in1850, and ran it for nine years; but in vain do we find inits pages any advice for aspiring editors, other than theimplicit suggestion, ‘to increase sales, serialise Hard Times’.Perhaps we might seek help from the pen of Thomas deQuincey, one of the 19th century’s most renowned essayists:it is a little-known fact that his literary career startedwith the editorship of the Westmorland Gazette (one concisechronology of his life has the telling entries, ‘1818 –Appointed editor of the Westmorland Gazette. Lucid opiumnightmares. 1819 – Dismissed from editorship.’).To his great credit, de Quincey was not so tedious as towrite editorials about the writing of editorials. However,buried in one of his first pieces for that newspaper, we findthe following proclamation of his own editorial creed; perhapswe might adopt this – with appropriate deyeomanisation– to serve as Johnson’s longed-for ‘ceremonialmode of entrance’:The purpose is, to present to the consideration of the Yeomanryof Westmorland and the Artisans of this town, in a series ofshort essays, as much as possible abstracted from what isspecific and personal to the present case and parties, a clearexposition, and if it is possible a satisfactory solution, of theleading political questions which concern our time andnation.… it is hoped that, in consideration of the end proposed,assistance will be given as their opportunities of leisure allow, bysome of the many intelligent and power minded men, for whomthis town is so highly reputed…The Editor trusts that this assistance will be given in futuremore and more readily, in proportion as it comes to be felt fromhis tone and manner – be his deficiencies ever so conspicuous asto skill and ability, and however lamentably he may fall shortof the success which he would willingly obtain – that he haswritten with deliberation, and with an earnest desire toenlighten the uneducated, and according to the measure of hisknowledge, and in perfect fidelity to the suggestions of hisconscience.