Question of The Century

While beginning my search for the next few installments of rediscovering old stories (those posts take me hours to do), I came across a letter written in a magazine called The Writer written by Gertrude Lynch and published in April 1892 issue of the magazine. What really struck me was the fact that the man she was talking to…I’ll let you read it. Let me know in the comments what you think of his comment.


A few years ago my attention was attracted by an article in one of the leading magazines. It was an article of more than ordinary merit, possessing that rarity, even then, a plot dramatically conceived and executed. The scene was laid in a part of the world the truthful picturing of which showed the writer to be a person who had travelled much and observed keenly; the diction was “English pure and undefiled.” There was but one drawback, that the author’s name was withheld, and I was obliged to lay my offering of approval and admiration at an unknown shrine.

Lately, in conversation with a man who forms one of the great majority of those who gain a moderate competence in business life, his days spent in the wearisome routine of mercantile life, his nights in painful figurings about that delusive “deal” which is to settle satisfactorily all questions of financial perplexity, our talk turned on books, literary celebrities, the chat of the profession of letters. My friend suddenly became communicative and reminiscent—rare expressions in him.

“A few years ago,” he said. “I, too, had the literary craze. I wrote a little—stray articles, stories, poems, the usual repertoire.”

I wondered what kind of material this suave, cynical, reserved man could have produced—in other words, what was his undercurrent. I interrogated. To my surprise and consternation I had found at last the author of my pedestal-placed masterpiece.

“But why,” I said, “did you not keep on; why hide, deface, forget, a talent like yours?”

“Allowing, for the sake of argument,” he answered, “that I possessed talent to the degree you imply, I should still have been forced to my present attitude. I am not alone in this. I am convinced that the best writers (of course, with notable exceptions) are the people who never write, who could bring to the field varied experience, the results of travel, thought, and cultivation, but who are driven away by the knowledge that the wolf will have them if they attempt it. Notwithstanding the fact that there has never been a time when literature has been produced so prolifically, a man can only make a moderate competence, and that after years of weary uncertainty and a constant strain on the waiting nerves, and, even at the end, he gets but a meagre reward: lots of newspaper notoriety and a scanty bank account. I am not complaining; I looked the facts squarely in the face, and chose what I regarded as the only sensible solution. I could not conscientiously use literature as a safety-valve or time-passer, giving to the world the result of tired brain and over-wrought nerves; consequently, I sacrificed inclination to necessity, and have left my muse alone. However,”—and he was once more the worldling,—”I have reserved to myself the right to criticise; and when I see a young man of talent enter the field of letters, I conclude he is like a man about to marry, either a great hero or a great fool.”



3 thoughts on “Question of The Century

  1. Pingback: Question of The Century | sparksfromacombustiblemind

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