It was perhaps his susceptibility to the many vintages of existence that had impelled him to write, authors being more or less a natural result of the economic law of intake and output. As is the habit of most young writers, he wrote on various subjects, put enough material for a two-volume novel into a short story, and generally revelled in the prodigality of literary youth. He was prepared to be a social satirist, a chronicler of the Smart Set, a champion of the down-trodden masses, or a commercial essayist, according to the first public that showed appreciation of his work.
Although he had lived in Boston, that city which claims so close an affinity to ancient Athens (as a matter of fact, has it not been said that Athens is the Boston of Europe?), he was drawn to the great vortex of New York, that mighty capital of modernism which sucks the best brains of an entire continent. For some time he wrote beneath his own standard and with considerable success. Following the example of several successful New York authors, he plunged into a hectic portrayal of ‘high’ society, a set of people that makes one wonder as to the exact meaning of the adjective. For a short space he came under the influence of the studied Bohemianism of ‘Greenwich Village,’ and wrote deucedly clever things for the applause of the villagers, then sneered at American taste because people in Arkansas did not like his work. Still retaining his love of Greenwichery, he next succumbed to the money lure of the motion-picture industry, which offered to buy the picture-rights of his stories, provided he would introduce into them the elements which go to make up successful American films.
With the prospect of a bank president’s income before him, he succeeded in writing his share of that form of American literature which has a certain love interest, almost obscured by a nasty sexual diagnosis, an element of comedy relief, and, above all, a passionate adherence to the craze of the moment—a work that fades from the mind with the closing of the book, as the memory of the author’s name vanishes almost before the last sound of the earth dropped upon his coffin.
He knew that there were sincere literati writing of the abiding things that do not die with the passing of a season, but the clamour of commercialism drowned their voices. As though they were stocks upon an exchange, he heard the cries: ’Brown’s getting five thousand dollars a month writing serials for Hitch’s;’ ’Smith sold two novels on synopsis for thirty thousand dollars;’ ’Green’s signed up with Tagwicks for four years at two thousand dollars a month writing problem novels.’ Into the maelstrom of ‘Dollars, Dollars, Dollars,’ the sensitive brains of all America were drifting, throwing overboard ideals and aspirations in order to keep afloat in the swirling foam.
And then—the Fates stooped and touched his destiny with a star.
A New York publisher (one of that little group which has for its motto, ‘Art for Art’s sake,’ not ‘Art, for God’s sake!’) noticed him, and spoke of literature as an expression of the soul, a thing not of a season or a decade, but as ageless as a painting.