“Georgy’s dead,” said the girl.
The Great Man
To the people who do not write it must seem odd that men and women should be willing to sacrifice their lives in the endeavour to find new arrangements and combinations of words with which to express old thoughts and older emotions, yet that is not an unfair statement of the task of the literary artist. Words—symbols that represent the noises that human beings make with their tongues and lips and teeth—lie within our grasp like the fragments of a jig-saw puzzle, and we fit them into faulty pictures until our hands grow weary and our eyes can no longer pretend to see the truth. In order to illustrate an infinitesimal fraction of our lives by means of this preposterous game we are willing to sacrifice all the rest. While ordinary efficient men and women are enjoying the promise of the morning, the fulfilment of the afternoon, the tranquillity of evening, we are still trying to discover a fitting epithet for the dew of dawn. For us Spring paves the woods with beautiful words rather than flowers, and when we look into the eyes of our mistress we see nothing but adjectives. Love is an occasion for songs; Death but the overburdened father of all our saddest phrases. We are of those who are born crying into the world because they cannot speak, and we end, like Stevenson, by looking forward to our death because we have written a good epitaph. Sometimes in the course of our frequent descents from heaven to the waste-paper basket we feel that we lose too much to accomplish so little. Does a handful of love-songs really outweigh the smile of a pretty girl, or a hardly-written romance compensate the author for months of lost adventure? We have only one life to live, and we spend the greater part of it writing the history of dead hours. Our lives lack balance because we find it hard to discover a mean between the triolet we wrote last I night and the big book we are going to start tomorrow, and also because living only with our heads we tend to become top-heavy. We justify our present discomfort with the promise of a bright future of flowers and sunshine and gladdest life, though we know that in the garden of art there are many chrysalides and few butterflies. Few of us are fortunate enough to accomplish anything that was in the least worth doing, so we fall back on the arid philosophy that it is effort alone that counts.
Luckily—or suicide would be the rule rather than the exception for artists—the long process of disillusionment is broken by hours when even the most self-critical feel nobly and indubitably great; and this is the only reward that most artists ever have for their labours, if we set a higher price on art than money. On the whole, I am inclined to think that the artist is fully rewarded, for the common man can have no conception of the Joy that is to be found in belonging, though but momentarily and