A few words from George Eliot:
It was hardly a year since they had come to live at Tipton Grange with their uncle, a man nearly sixty, of acquiescent temper, miscellaneous opinions, and uncertain vote. He had travelled in his younger years, and was held in this part of the county to have contracted a too rambling habit of mind. Mr. Brooke's conclusions were as difficult to predict as the weather: it was only safe to say that he would act with benevolent intentions, and that he would spend as little money as possible in carrying them out. For the most glutinously indefinite minds enclose some hard grains of habit; and a man has been seen lax about all his own interests except the retention of his snuff-box, concerning which he was watchful, suspicious, and greedy of clutch.
As many of you know I am grammatically challenged. I didn't pay much attention in school. Habits which my teachers tried to drum out of me--haste, for instance--hardened and became a part of me. But my greater regret in not mastering grammar is that I can only understand the beauty of this sort of writing on a rather unspeakable emotional and spiritual level.
The best I can tell you, rather dumbly, is when I read this, and then re-read it, it made me smile. But I can't really tell you why that last sentence works. It actually feels off grammatically. But it also feels like the work of someone who understood the rules, and then intentionally broke them. That, of course, is a lot different than someone who breaks them out ignorance or haste.
I've never gone around bragging about what I didn't learn. I don't think it's any sort of accolade to be kicked out of high school (twice) or to drop out of college. I don't think of what I have acquired in spite of those things. I think about how I really should have learned French.
This quote from Malcolm should explain:
My greatest lack has been, I believe, that I don't have the kind of academic education I wish I had been able to get -- to have been a lawyer, perhaps. I do believe that I might have made a good lawyer. I have always loved verbal battle, and challenge. You can believe me that if I had the time right now, I would not be one bit ashamed to go back into any New York City public school and start where I left off at the ninth grade, and go on through a degree.Because I don't begin to be academically equipped for so many of the interests that I have. For instance, I love languages. I wish I were an accomplished linguist. I don't know anything more frustrating than to be around people talking something you can't understand. Especially when they are people who look just like you. In Africa, I heard original mother tongues, such as Hausa, and Swahili, being spoken, and there I was standing like some little boy, waiting for someone to tell me what had been said; I never will forget how ignorant I felt. Aside from the basic African dialects, I would try to learn Chinese, because it looks as if Chinese will be the most powerful political language of the future. And already I have begun studying Arabic, which I think is going to be the most powerful spiritual language of the future.I would just like to study. I mean ranging study, because I have a wide-open mind. I'm interested in almost any subject you can mention.
I don't wish I had been a lawyer, but I relate powerfully to this sentiment. I think I would have been a better writer because I might now understand what I was doing, why it worked, and why it didn't. To do that, I guess I would have had to pay more attention to those lectures on foreshadowing and irony I'm always complaining about. But as it stands, like some musicians, I basically write by ear.
Or, perhaps, the want of education has instilled other things--a deep insecurity married to a native curiosity that really burns, that propels. Perhaps without that rough edge I would be missing other aspects still. Who can tell. There is no one true golden way.
But I know that those are some beautiful sentences by George Eliot. And "greedy of clutch" is such a powerful assembly of words. It'd be nice to know why.