In the Confidence of a Story-Writer


THERE is registered somewhere in my consciousness a vow that I will never be confidential except for the purpose of misleading. But consistency is a pompous and wearisome burden, and I seek relief by casting it aside ; for, like the colored gentleman in the Passemala, I am sometimes “ afraid o’ myse’f,” but never ashamed. I have discovered my limitations, and I have saved myself much worry and torment by accepting them as final. I can gain nothing but tribulation by cultivating faculties that are not my own. I cannot reach anything by running after it, but I find that many pleasant and profitable things come to me here in my corner.

Some wise man has promulgated an eleventh commandment, “ Thou shalt not preach,” which, interpreted, means, “ Thou shalt not instruct thy neighbor as to what he should do.” But the Preacher is always with us. Said one to me : “ Thou shalt parcel off thy day into mathematical sections. So many hours shalt thou abandon thyself to thought, so many to writing ; a certain number shalt thou devote to household duties, to social enjoyment, to ministering to thy afflicted fellow creatures.” I listened to the voice of the Preacher, and the result was stagnation all along the line of “ hours ” and unspeakable bitterness of spirit. In brutal revolt I turned to and played solitaire during my “ thinking hour,” and whist when I should have been ministering to the afflicted. I scribbled a little during my “social enjoyment ” period, and shattered the “ household duties ” into fragments of every conceivable fraction of time, with which I besprinkled the entire day as from a pepper-box. In this way I succeeded in reëstablishing the harmonious discord and confusion which had surrounded me before I listened to the voice, and which seems necessary to my physical and mental well-being.

But there are many voices preaching. Said another one to me : “ Go forth and gather wisdom in the intellectual atmosphere of clubs, — in those centres of thought where questions are debated and knowledge is disseminated.” Once more giving heed, I hurried to enroll myself among the thinkers, and dispensers of knowledge, and propounders of questions. And very much out of place did I feel in these intellectual gatherings. I escaped by some pretext, and regained my corner, where no “ questions ” and no fine language can reach me.

There is far too much gratuitous advice bandied about, regardless of personal aptitude and wholly confusing to the individual point of view.

I had heard so often reiterated that “genius is a capacity for taking pains ” that the axiom had become lodged in my brain with the fixedness of a fundamental truth. I had never hoped or aspired to be a genius. But one day the thought occurred to me, “ I will take pains.” Thereupon I proceeded to lie awake at night plotting a tale that should convince my limited circle of readers that I could rise above the commonplace. As to choice of “ time,” the present century offered too prosaic a setting for a tale intended to stir the heart and the imagination. I selected the last century. It is true I know little of the last century, and have a feeble imagination. I read volumes hearing upon the history of the times and people that I proposed to manipulate, and pored over folios depicting costumes and household utensils then in use, determined to avoid inaccuracy. For the first time in my life I took notes, — copious notes, — and carried them bulging in my jacket pockets, until I felt as if f were wearing Zola’s coat. I have never seen a craftsman at work upon a fine piece of mosaic, but I fancy that he must handle the delicate bits much as I handled the words in that story, picking, selecting, grouping, with an eye to color and to artistic effect, — never satisfied. The story completed, I was very, very weary; but I had the satisfaction of feeling that for once in my life I had worked hard, I had achieved something great, I had taken pains.

But the story failed to arouse enthusiasm among the editors. It is at present lying in my desk. Even my best friend declined to listen to it, when I offered to read it to her.

I am more than ever convinced that a writer should be content to use his own faculty, whether it be a faculty for taking pains or a faculty for reaching his effects by the most careless methods. Every writer, I fancy, has his group of readers who understand, who are in sympathy with his thoughts or impressions or whatever he gives them. And he who is content to reach his own group, without ambition to be heard beyond it, attains, in my opinion, somewhat to the dignity of a philosopher.