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judicious reader can assign a better, I do here empower him to remove it into any other corner he pleases.”
I give like power to any judicious reader of this chapter-should I be lucky enough to hook so big a fish,—at the same time warning him (or her) that to skip this chapter will be a terrible mistake. It contains the clue to the
Having proved on the highest authority that an author has right to digress, I proceed to show that the interference of a critic is sheer trespass. It may not be generally known to the ingenious gentlemen who tell us every week what to read and what not to read that there was once a romance written by a descendant of the Counts of Hapsburg, concerning which the famous historian Gibbon (him you know, of course,) declares that it “will outlive the palace of the Escurial, and the imperial eagle of Austria.” If the English language last-and it will be the fault of fools if it last not-Gibbon is right. Well, the great writer to whom he refers will prove my case.
Thus he addresses his reader: “We warn thee not too hastily to condemn any of the incidents of this our history, as impertinent and foreign to our main design, because thou dost not immediately conceive in what manner such incident may conduce to that design. This work may indeed be considered as a great creation of our own ; and for a little reptile of a critic to presume to find fault with any of its parts, without knowing the manner in which the whole is connected, and before he comes to the final catastrophe, is a most presumptuous absurdity.”
So critics are designated by the writer whom Scott and Thackeray declared the greatest English novelist, little reptiles! Very hard on the critics!
Farther on, the great story-teller digresses again to laugh at critics—many of whom, even in his days, were briefless barristers. I will quote only a few of his words, but they are to the
point: for he described common English folk, and made no pretence to be elegantly pathetic and unnaturally sentimental. He objects to critics who, “ without assigning any particular faults, condemn the whole in general defamatory terms, such as vile, dull, damned stuff, &c., and particularly by the use of the monosyllable now.”
Low! There you have it. Thus, whereas, according to the title of the best farce ever writ by a schoolmaster, there is high life below stairs, is there not also low life above stairs ?a farce that now and then verges on tragedy.
Having Swift and Fielding as authorities on the first two counts of my indictment, I need take slight trouble on the third; yet it is the most momentous of the three. I am not digressing. I keep close to my thesis. The keynote of my story is—Never put pen to paper. The unwisdom hereof is shown when a man of genius writes a book. If there were no writing, no printing, men would listen for a poet's lightest words, would use their memories to retain them, would keep them in their brains instead of on their shelves.
Better also for the poet. It is so much easier to write bad rhyme and rhythm than to utter bad rhyme and rhythm. It is so much easier to say a thing twice over in your own study than before an audience who drink in your rhapsody. Besides, your audience helps you : if you have any brains (which, as a modern poet, one may doubt,) they will make you improvise and ejaculate.
I have passed from white paper to the agora. They are not materially unconnected. The cacoëthes scribendi is akin to the legendi. But were there less scribbling, I think there would be stricter speaking. Men get charged with leading articles; and there results what Coleridge used to call (in days when such aperients were weaker) an oral diarrhea. If a man or woman either could not or would not read, he or she would be forced to think.
Η μεν άρ ώς ειπούσ’ ανέβη γλαυκώπις Αθήνη
N John Silchester's judgment, when not
rebellious about the alphabet, the true Olympus was a library. There you were beyond reach of all the miserable windy influences which surround the outer world. There you could enjoy life without interference, could “ unsphere the spirit of Plato,” could call at a word from the mysterious past the