Monday, September 08, 2008

If we were only the Shakespeares to see it

'The point is,' he explained to Lawford, standing amid a postitive archipelago of precious 'finds,' with his foot hoisted onto a chair and a patched-up, sea-stained folio on his knee, 'I honestly detest the mere give and take of what we are fools enough to call life. I don't deny Life's there,' he swept his hand towards the open window--'in that frantic Tophet we call London; but there's no focus, no point of vantage. Even a scribbler only gets it piecemeal and through a dulled medium. We learn to read before we know how to see; we swallow our tastes, convictions, and emotions whole; so that nine-tenths of the world's nectar is merely honeydew.' He smiled pleasantly into the fixed vacancy of his visitor's face. 'That's why I've just gone on,' he continued amiably, 'collecting this particular kind of stuff--what you might call riff-raff. There's not a book here, Lawford, that hasn't at least a glimmer of the real thing in it--just Life, seen through a living eye, and felt. As for literature, and style, and all that gallimaufry, don't fear for them if your author has the ghost of a hint of genius in his making.'

'But surely,' said Lawford, trying for the twentieth time to pretend to himself that these endless books carried the faintest savour of the delight to him which they must, he rather forlornly supposed, shower upon Herbert, 'surely genius is a very rare thing!'

'Rare! the world simply swarms with it. But before you can bottle it up in a book it's got to be articulate. Just for a single instant imagine yourself Falstaff, and if there weren't hundreds of Falstaffs in every generation, to be examples of his ungodly life, he'd be as dead as a doornail to-morrow--imagine yourself Falstaff, and being so, sitting down to write "Henry IV," or "The Merry Wives." It's simply preposterous. You wouldn't be such a fool as to waste the time. A mere Elizabethan scribbler comes along with a gift of expression and an observant eye, lifts the bloated old tippler clean out of life, and swims down the ages as the greatest genius the world has ever seen. Whereas, surely, though you mustn't let me bore you with all this piffle, it's Falstaff is the genius, and W.S. merely a talented reporter.

'Lear, Macbeth, Mercutio--they live on their own, as it were. The newspapers are full of them, if we were only the Shakespeares to see it. Have you ever been in a Police Court? Have you ever WATCHED tradesmen behind their counters? My soul, the secrets walking in the streets! You jostle them at every corner. There's a Polonius in every first-class railway carriage, and as many Juliets as there are boarding-schools. What the devil are you, my dear chap, but genius itself, with all the world brand new upon your shoulders? And who'd have thought it of you ten days ago?'

--Walter de la Mare, The Return


  1. What wonderful quotations you find. This one is particularly meaningful to me.



"I don't believe in ghosts, but I see them all the time."

Sherman Alexie cancels book tour for memoir about his mother.