In saying this I know that I am confessing myself to be a frank improvisatore, and where such art fails, as mine often fails, is in a lack of the power of concentration and revision, which is the last and greatest necessity of high art. But I owe to it the happiest and brightest experiences of life, to which no other pleasure is even dimly comparable. Easy writing, it is said, makes hard reading; but is it true that hard writing ever makes easy reading?
The end of the matter would seem to be that if the creative impulse is very strong in a man, it will probably find its way out. If ordinary routine-work destroys it, it is probably not very robust; yet authorship is not to be recommended as a profession, because the prizes are few, the way hard, the disappointments poignant and numerous; and though there are perhaps few greater benefactors to the human race than beautiful and noble writers, yet there are many natures both noble and beautiful who would like to approach life that way, but who, from lack of the complete artistic equipment, from technical deficiencies, from failure in craftsmanship, must find some other way of enriching the blood of the world.
HERB MOLY AND HEARTSEASE
When Odysseus was walking swiftly, with rage in his heart, through the island of Circe, to find out what had befallen his companions, he would have assuredly gone to his doom in the great stone house of the witch, the smoke of which went up among the thickets, if Hermes had not met him.
The God came in the likeness of a beautiful youth with the first down of manhood upon his lips. He chid the much-enduring one for his rash haste, and gave him what we should call not very good advice; but he also gave him something which was worth more than any good advice, a charm which should prevail against the spells of the Nymph, which he might carry in his bosom and be unscathed.
It was an ugly enough herb, a prickly plant which sprawled low in the shadow of the trees. Its root was black, and it had a milk-white flower; the Gods called it Moly, and no mortal strength could avail to pull it from the soil; but as Odysseus says, telling the story, “There is nothing which the Gods cannot do”; and it came up easily enough at the touch of the beardless youth. We know how the spell worked, how Odysseus rescued his companions, and how Circe told him the way to the regions of the dead; but even so he did not wholly escape from her evil enchantment!
No one knows what the herb Moly really was; some say it was the mandrake, that plant of darkness, which was thought to bear a dreadful resemblance, in its pale swollen stalk and outstretched arms, to a tortured human form, and to utter moans as it was dragged from the soil; but later on it was used as the name for a kind of garlic, employed as a flavouring for highly-spiced salads. The Greeks were not, it seems, very scientific botanists, so far as nomenclature went, and applied any name that was handy to any plant that struck their fancy. They believed, no doubt, that things had secret and intimate names of their own, which were known perhaps to the Gods, but that men must just call them what they could.