The Writer's Staircase Emendations
— I am bothered by a troublesome trick of my brain, in literary work. Perhaps it may be scared away by telling my fellow-clubbers of it. When I have completed a manuscript, if I lay it away hi a drawer or pigeon-hole, it lies there quietly enough, and my mind seems wholly discharged of it. But if I mail it, I straight-way find myself tormented with “ staircase wit ” in the shape of emendations. Occasionally, these are kind enough to come before the mail has actually left the post-office. In this case, as I live in a small village, where one is not afraid to approach the postmaster almost as if he were an ordinary man, and ask a favor of him, I have sometimes rescued the package, torn it open with feverish hand, and hastily inserted the after-thought, badly scratched with the post-office pen and blurred with the dark palimpsest of the post-office blotting-paper.
Commonly, however, the manuscript is jogging along in its mail pouch, miles away, before the brilliant correction occurs to me. Then I am sad. And I know that I am about to be the cause of sadness in others, when I sit down to write a second letter to the editor, humbly asking him to turn to the third line from the bottom of the thirteenth page, and change Porson to Polycarp ; or to erase the joke on the last page, and substitute a passage from Young’s Night Thoughts.
No sooner is this second letter well on its way than it flashes into my mind, once more upon the staircase, that it was not Polycarp but Polybius that I meant; or that a passage from Pollock’s Course of Time is in reality the indispensable citation.
What goes on in the editor’s private apartment when these successive alterations are received, it is perhaps as well that I cannot, at this distance, overhear.