The famous Lord Halifax was rather a pretender to taste than really possessed of it. When I had finished the two or three first books of my translation of the Iliad, that Lord “desired to have the pleasure of hearing them read at his house.” Addison, Congreve, and Garth were there at the reading. In four or five places Lord Halifax stopped me very civilly, and with a speech each time of much the same kind:”I beg your pardon, Mr. Pope, but there is something in that passage that does not quite please me. Be so good as to mark the place and consider it a little at your leisure. I’m sure you can give it a better turn.”
I returned from Lord Halifax’s with Dr. Garth in his chariot, and as we were going along was saying to the Doctor that my Lord had laid me under a good deal of difficulty by such loose and general observations; that I had been thinking over the passages almost ever since, and could not guess at what it was that offended his lordship in either of them. Garth laughed heartily at my embarrassment, said I had not been long enough acquainted with Lord Halifax to know his way yet, that I need not puzzle myself in looking those places over and over when I got home. “All you need do,” says he, “is to leave them just as they are, call on Lord Halifax two or three months hence, thank him for his kind observation on those passages, and then read them to him as altered. I have known him much longer than you have, and will be answerable for the event.”
I followed his advice, waited on Lord Halifax some time after, said “I hoped he would find his objection, to those passages removed,” read them to him exactly as they were at first, and his lordship was extremely pleased with them and cried out: “Ay, now they are perfectly right! Nothing can be better.” — Alexander Pope
The above passage, which I came across while reading The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes, was particularly amusing to me, as I had a similar experience nearly 300 years later, in 1979, at the beginning of my on-and-off-and-on-again career as a copywriter. One of my regular assignments at the New Orleans agency that gave me my first job in advertising was to write a week’s worth of 30-sec radio spots promoting each issue of our local, then-daily newspaper, The Times-Picayune. I was given advance copies of articles and columns that would run in the week ahead and would draft a 75-word promo for each day, highlighting the most interesting items available to me.
It was a relatively simple task, and I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it, but the woman serving as account executive would always return each week’s batch of scripts to the secretary with numerous “corrections” for her to make to my copy. I would pore over these corrections and try to make sense of them, so as to avoid making the same errors again, but the exact nature of my work’s inadequacy forever eluded me.
Then, one day, after months of this agonizing and frustrating process, the secretary related an incident to me that explained everything.
On this particular occasion, the account executive had returned my copy to the secretary with the usual assortment of seemingly arbitrary and unnecessary changes to be made. An hour or so later, before the secretary had had a chance to make the changes, the AE returned and picked up a xerox of the original draft. Thinking it was the revised version, she looked it over, pronounced it much improved, and went on her way.