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Author: Bennett, Arnold, 1867-1931
Title: The Author's Craft
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Title: The Author's Craft

Author: Arnold Bennett

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THE AUTHOR'S CRAFT

By

ARNOLD BENNETT




WORKS BY ARNOLD BENNETT

NOVELS

A Man from the North
Anna of the Five Towns
Leonora
A Great Man
Sacred and Profane Love
Whom God hath Joined
Buried Alive
The Old Wives' Tale
The Glimpse
Helen with the High Hand
Clayhanger
The Card
Hilda Lessways
The Regent

FANTASIAS

The Grand Babylon Hotel
The Gates of Wrath
Teresa of Watling Street
The Loot of Cities
Hugo
The Ghost
The City of Pleasure

SHORT STORIES

Tales of the Five Towns
The Grim Smile of the Five Towns
The Matador of the Five Towns

BELLES-LETTRES

Journalism for Women
Fame and Fiction
How to become an Author
The Reasonable Life
How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day
The Human Machine
Literary Taste
The Feast of St Friend
Those United States
The Plain Man and His Wife
Paris Nights

DRAMA

Polite Farces
Cupid and Common Sense
What the Public Wants
The Honeymoon
The Great Adventure

       *       *       *       *       *

(_In Collaboration with EDEN PHILLPOTTS_)
The Sinews of War: A Romance
The Statue: A Romance

(_In Collaboration with EDWARD KNOBLAUCH_)
Milestones: A Play




THE AUTHOR'S CRAFT

By

ARNOLD BENNETT

HODDER AND STOUGHTON
LONDON NEW YORK TORONTO


Printed in 1914


CONTENTS


PART I.
SEEING LIFE

PART II.
WRITING NOVELS

PART III.
WRITING PLAYS

PART IV.
THE ARTIST AND THE PUBLIC




PART I

SEEING LIFE


I


A young dog, inexperienced, sadly lacking in even primary education,
ambles and frisks along the footpath of Fulham Road, near the mysterious
gates of a Marist convent. He is a large puppy, on the way to be a dog
of much dignity, but at present he has little to recommend him but that
gawky elegance, and that bounding gratitude for the gift of life, which
distinguish the normal puppy. He is an ignorant fool. He might have
entered the convent of nuns and had a fine time, but instead he steps
off the pavement into the road, the road being a vast and interesting
continent imperfectly explored. His confidence in his nose, in his
agility, and in the goodness of God is touching, absolutely painful to
witness. He glances casually at a huge, towering vermilion construction
that is whizzing towards him on four wheels, preceded by a glint of
brass and a wisp of steam; and then with disdain he ignores it as less
important than a mere speck of odorous matter in the mud. The next
instant he is lying inert in the mud. His confidence in the goodness of
God had been misplaced. Since the beginning of time God had ordained him
a victim.

An impressive thing happens. The motor-bus reluctantly slackens and
stops. Not the differential brake, nor the foot-brake, has arrested the
motor-bus, but the invisible brake of public opinion, acting by
administrative transmission. There is not a policeman in sight.
Theoretically, the motor-'bus is free to whiz onward in its flight to
the paradise of Shoreditch, but in practice it is paralysed by dread. A
man in brass buttons and a stylish cap leaps down from it, and the
blackened demon who sits on its neck also leaps down from it, and they
move gingerly towards the puppy. A little while ago the motor-bus might
have overturned a human cyclist or so, and proceeded nonchalant on its
way. But now even a puppy requires a post-mortem: such is the force of
public opinion aroused. Two policemen appear in the distance.

"A street accident" is now in being, and a crowd gathers with calm joy
and stares, passive and determined. The puppy offers no sign whatever;
just lies in the road. Then a boy, destined probably to a great future
by reason of his singular faculty of initiative, goes to the puppy and
carries him by the scruff of the neck, to the shelter of the gutter.
Relinquished by the boy, the lithe puppy falls into an easy horizontal
attitude, and seems bent upon repose. The boy lifts the puppy's head to
examine it, and the head drops back wearily. The puppy is dead. No cry,
no blood, no disfigurement! Even no perceptible jolt of the wheel as it
climbed over the obstacle of the puppy's body! A wonderfully clean and
perfect accident!

The increasing crowd stares with beatific placidity. People emerge
impatiently from the bowels of the throbbing motor-bus and slip down
from its back, and either join the crowd or vanish. The two policemen
and the crew of the motor-bus have now met in parley. The conductor and
the driver have an air at once nervous and resigned; their gestures are
quick and vivacious. The policemen, on the other hand, indicate by their
slow and huge movements that eternity is theirs. And they could not be
more sure of the conductor and the driver if they had them manacled and
leashed. The conductor and the driver admit the absolute dominion of the
elephantine policemen; they admit that before the simple will of the
policemen inconvenience, lost minutes, shortened leisure, docked wages,
count as less than naught. And the policemen are carelessly sublime,
well knowing that magistrates, jails, and the very Home Secretary on his
throne--yes, and a whole system of conspiracy and perjury and
brutality--are at their beck in case of need. And yet occasionally in
the demeanour of the policemen towards the conductor and the driver
there is a silent message that says: "After all, we, too, are working
men like you, over-worked and under-paid and bursting with grievances in
the service of the pitiless and dishonest public. We, too, have wives
and children and privations and frightful apprehensions. We, too, have
to struggle desperately. Only the awful magic of these garments and of
the garter which we wear on our wrists sets an abyss between us and
you." And the conductor writes and one of the policemen writes, and they
keep on writing, while the traffic makes beautiful curves to avoid them.

The still increasing crowd continues to stare in the pure blankness of
pleasure. A close-shaved, well-dressed, middle-aged man, with a copy of
_The Sportsman_ in his podgy hand, who has descended from the motor-bus,
starts stamping his feet. "I was knocked down by a taxi last year," he
says fiercely. "But nobody took no notice of _that_! Are they going to
stop here all the blank morning for a blank tyke?" And for all his
respectable appearance, his features become debased, and he emits a jet
of disgusting profanity and brings most of the Trinity into the
thunderous assertion that he has paid his fare. Then a man passes
wheeling a muck-cart. And he stops and talks a long time with the other
uniforms, because he, too, wears vestiges of a uniform. And the crowd
never moves nor ceases to stare. Then the new arrival stoops and picks
up the unclaimed, masterless puppy, and flings it, all soft and
yielding, into the horrid mess of the cart, and passes on. And only that
which is immortal and divine of the puppy remains behind, floating
perhaps like an invisible vapour over the scene of the tragedy.

The crowd is tireless, all eyes. The four principals still converse and
write. Nobody in the crowd comprehends what they are about. At length
the driver separates himself, but is drawn back, and a new parley is
commenced. But everything ends. The policemen turn on their immense
heels. The driver and conductor race towards the motor-bus. The bell
rings, the motor-bus, quite empty, disappears snorting round the corner
into Walham Green. The crowd is now lessening. But it separates with
reluctance, many of its members continuing to stare with intense
absorption at the place where the puppy lay or the place where the
policemen stood. An appreciable interval elapses before the "street
accident" has entirely ceased to exist as a phenomenon.

The members of the crowd follow their noses, and during the course of
the day remark to acquaintances:

"Saw a dog run over by a motor-bus in the Fulham Road this morning!
Killed dead!"

And that is all they do remark. That is all they have witnessed. They
will not, and could not, give intelligible and interesting particulars
of the affair (unless it were as to the breed of the dog or the number
of the bus-service). They have watched a dog run over. They analyse
neither their sensations nor the phenomenon. They have witnessed it
whole, as a bad writer uses a _cliche_. They have observed--that is to
say, they have really seen--nothing.




II


It will be well for us not to assume an attitude of condescension
towards the crowd. Because in the matter of looking without seeing we
are all about equal. We all go to and fro in a state of the observing
faculties which somewhat resembles coma. We are all content to look and
not see.

And if and when, having comprehended that the _role_ of observer is not
passive but active, we determine by an effort to rouse ourselves from
the coma and really to see the spectacle of the world (a spectacle
surpassing circuses and even street accidents in sustained dramatic
interest), we shall discover, slowly in the course of time, that the act
of seeing, which seems so easy, is not so easy as it seems. Let a man
resolve: "I will keep my eyes open on the way to the office of a
morning," and the probability if that for many mornings he will see
naught that is not trivial, and that his system of perspective will be
absurdly distorted. The unusual, the unaccustomed, will infallibly
attract him, to the exclusion of what is fundamental and universal.
Travel makes observers of us all, but the things which as travellers we
observe generally show how unskilled we are in the new activity.

A man went to Paris for the first time, and observed right off that the
carriages of suburban trains had seats on the roof like a tramcar. He
was so thrilled by the remarkable discovery that he observed almost
nothing else. This enormous fact occupied the whole foreground of his
perspective. He returned home and announced that Paris was a place where
people rode on the tops of trains. A Frenchwoman came to London for the
first time--and no English person would ever guess the phenomenon which
vanquished all others in her mind on the opening day. She saw a cat
walking across a street. The vision excited her. For in Paris cats do
not roam in thoroughfares, because there are practically no houses with
gardens or "areas"; the flat system is unfavourable to the enlargement
of cats. I remember once, in the days when observation had first
presented itself to me as a beautiful pastime, getting up very early and
making the circuit of inner London before summer dawn in quest of
interesting material. And the one note I gathered was that the ground in
front of the all-night coffee-stalls was white with egg-shells! What I
needed then was an operation for cataract. I also remember taking a man
to the opera who had never seen an opera. The work was _Lohengrin_. When
we came out he said: "That swan's neck was rather stiff." And it was all
he did say. We went and had a drink. He was not mistaken. His
observation was most just; but his perspective was that of those
literary critics who give ten lines to pointing out three slips of
syntax, and three lines to an ungrammatical admission that the novel
under survey is not wholly tedious.

But a man may acquire the ability to observe even a large number of
facts, and still remain in the infantile stage of observation. I have
read, in some work of literary criticism, that Dickens could walk up one
side of a long, busy street and down the other, and then tell you in
their order the names on all the shop-signs; the fact was alleged as an
illustration of his great powers of observation. Dickens was a great
observer, but he would assuredly have been a still greater observer had
he been a little less pre-occupied with trivial and unco-ordinated
details. Good observation consists not in multiplicity of detail, but in
co-ordination of detail according to a true perspective of relative
importance, so that a finally just general impression may be reached in
the shortest possible time. The skilled observer is he who does not have
to change his mind. One has only to compare one's present adjusted
impression of an intimate friend with one's first impression of him to
perceive the astounding inadequacy of one's powers of observation. The
man as one has learnt to see him is simply not the same man who walked
into one's drawing-room on the day of introduction.

There are, by the way, three sorts of created beings who are
sentimentally supposed to be able to judge individuals at the first
glance: women, children, and dogs. By virtue of a mystic gift with which
rumour credits them, they are never mistaken. It is merely not true.
Women are constantly quite wrong in the estimates based on their
"feminine instinct"; they sometimes even admit it; and the matrimonial
courts prove it _passim_. Children are more often wrong than women. And
as for dogs, it is notorious that they are for ever being taken in by
plausible scoundrels; the perspective of dogs is grotesque. Not seldom
have I grimly watched the gradual disillusion of deceived dogs.
Nevertheless, the sentimental legend of the infallibility of women,
children, and dogs, will persist in Anglo-Saxon countries.




III


One is curious about one's fellow-creatures: therefore one watches them.
And generally the more intelligent one is, the more curious one is, and
the more one observes. The mere satisfaction of this curiosity is in
itself a worthy end, and would alone justify the business of
systematised observation. But the aim of observation may, and should, be
expressed in terms more grandiose. Human curiosity counts among the
highest social virtues (as indifference counts among the basest
defects), because it leads to the disclosure of the causes of character
and temperament and thereby to a better understanding of the springs of
human conduct. Observation is not practised directly with this high end
in view (save by prigs and other futile souls); nevertheless it is a
moral act and must inevitably promote kindliness--whether we like it or
not. It also sharpens the sense of beauty. An ugly deed--such as a deed
of cruelty--takes on artistic beauty when its origin and hence its
fitness in the general scheme begin to be comprehended. In the
perspective of history we can derive an aesthetic pleasure from the
tranquil scrutiny of all kinds of conduct--as well, for example, of a
Renaissance Pope as of a Savonarola. Observation endows our day and our
street with the romantic charm of history, and stimulates charity--not
the charity which signs cheques, but the more precious charity which
puts itself to the trouble of understanding. The one condition is that
the observer must never lose sight of the fact that what he is trying to
see is life, is the woman next door, is the man in the train--and not a
concourse of abstractions. To appreciate all this is the first inspiring
preliminary to sound observation.




IV


The second preliminary is to realise that all physical phenomena are
interrelated, that there is nothing which does not bear on everything
else. The whole spectacular and sensual show--what the eye sees, the ear
hears, the nose scents, the tongue tastes and the skin touches--is a
cause or an effect of human conduct. Naught can be ruled out as
negligible, as not forming part of the equation. Hence he who would
beyond all others see life for himself--I naturally mean the novelist
and playwright--ought to embrace all phenomena in his curiosity. Being
finite, he cannot. Of course he cannot! But he can, by obtaining a broad
notion of the whole, determine with some accuracy the position and
relative importance of the particular series of phenomena to which his
instinct draws him. If he does not thus envisage the immense background
of his special interests, he will lose the most precious feeling for
interplay and proportion without which all specialism becomes distorted
and positively darkened.

Now, the main factor in life on this planet is the planet itself. Any
logically conceived survey of existence must begin with geographical and
climatic phenomena. This is surely obvious. If you say that you are not
interested in meteorology or the configurations of the earth, I say that
you deceive yourself. You are. For an east wind may upset your liver and
cause you to insult your wife. Beyond question the most important fact
about, for example, Great Britain is that it is an island. We sail amid
the Hebrides, and then talk of the fine qualities and the distressing
limitations of those islanders; it ought to occur to us English that we
are talking of ourselves in little. In moments of journalistic vainglory
we are apt to refer to the "sturdy island race," meaning us. But that we
are insular in the full significance of the horrid word is certain. Why
not? A genuine observation of the supreme phenomenon that Great Britain
is surrounded by water--an effort to keep it always at the back of the
consciousness--will help to explain all the minor phenomena of British
existence. Geographical knowledge is the mother of discernment, for the
varying physical characteristics of the earth are the sole direct
terrestrial influence determining the evolution of original vital
energy.

All other influences are secondary, and have been effects of character
and temperament before becoming causes. Perhaps the greatest of them are
roads and architecture. Nothing could be more English than English
roads, or more French than French roads. Enter England from France, let
us say through the gate of Folkestone, and the architectural
illustration which greets you (if you can look and see) is absolutely
dramatic in its spectacular force. You say that there is no architecture
in Folkestone. But Folkestone, like other towns, is just as full of
architecture as a wood is full of trees. As the train winds on its
causeway over the sloping town you perceive below you thousands of squat
little homes, neat, tended, respectable, comfortable, prim, at once
unostentatious and conceited. Each a separate, clearly-defined entity!
Each saying to the others: "Don't look over my wall, and I won't look
over yours!" Each with a ferocious jealousy bent on guarding its own
individuality! Each a stronghold--an island! And all careless of the
general effect, but making a very impressive general effect. The English
race is below you. Your own son is below you insisting on the
inviolability of his own den of a bedroom! ... And contrast all that
with the immense communistic and splendid facades of a French town, and
work out the implications. If you really intend to see life you cannot
afford to be blind to such thrilling phenomena.

Yet an inexperienced, unguided curiosity would be capable of walking
through a French street and through an English street, and noting
chiefly that whereas English lamp-posts spring from the kerb, French
lamp-posts cling to the side of the house! Not that that detail is not
worth noting. It is--in its place. French lamp-posts are part of what we
call the "interesting character" of a French street. We say of a French
street that it is "full of character." As if an English street was not!
Such is blindness--to be cured by travel and the exercise of the logical
faculty, most properly termed common sense. If one is struck by the
magnificence of the great towns of the Continent, one should
ratiocinate, and conclude that a major characteristic of the great towns
of England is their shabby and higgledy-piggledy slovenliness. It is so.
But there are people who have lived fifty years in Manchester, Leeds,
Hull and Hanley without noticing it. The English idiosyncrasy is in that
awful external slovenliness too, causing it, and being caused by it.
Every street is a mirror, an illustration, an exposition, an
explanation, of the human beings who live in it. Nothing in it is to be
neglected. Everything in it is valuable, if the perspective is
maintained. Nevertheless, in the narrow individualistic novels of
English literature--and in some of the best--you will find a domestic
organism described as though it existed in a vacuum, or in the Sahara,
or between Heaven and earth; as though it reacted on nothing and was
reacted on by nothing; and as though it could be adequately rendered
without reference to anything exterior to itself. How can such novels
satisfy a reader who has acquired or wants to acquire the faculty of
seeing life?




V


The net result of the interplay of instincts and influences which
determine the existence of a community is shown in the general
expression on the faces of the people. This is an index which cannot lie
and cannot be gainsaid. It is fairly easy, and extremely interesting, to
decipher. It is so open, shameless, and universal, that not to look at
it is impossible. Yet the majority of persons fail to see it. We hear of
inquirers standing on London Bridge and counting the number of
motor-buses, foot-passengers, lorries, and white horses that pass over
the bridge in an hour. But we never hear of anybody counting the number
of faces happy or unhappy, honest or rascally, shrewd or ingenuous, kind
or cruel, that pass over the bridge. Perhaps the public may be surprised
to hear that the general expression on the faces of Londoners of all
ranks varies from the sad to the morose; and that their general mien is
one of haste and gloomy preoccupation. Such a staring fact is paramount
in sociological evidence. And the observer of it would be justified in
summoning Heaven, the legislature, the county council, the churches, and
the ruling classes, and saying to them: "Glance at these faces, and
don't boast too much about what you have accomplished. The climate and
the industrial system have so far triumphed over you all."




VI


When we come to the observing of the individual--to which all human
observing does finally come if there is any right reason in it--the
aforesaid general considerations ought to be ever present in the
hinterland of the consciousness, aiding and influencing, perhaps
vaguely, perhaps almost imperceptibly, the formation of judgments. If
they do nothing else, they will at any rate accustom the observer to the
highly important idea of the correlation of all phenomena. Especially in
England a haphazard particularity is the chief vitiating element in the
operations of the mind.

In estimating the individual we are apt not only to forget his
environment, but--really strange!--to ignore much of the evidence
visible in the individual himself. The inexperienced and ardent
observer, will, for example, be astonishingly blind to everything in an
individual except his face. Telling himself that the face must be the
reflection of the soul, and that every thought and emotion leaves
inevitably its mark there, he will concentrate on the face, singling it
out as a phenomenon apart and self-complete. Were he a god and
infallible, he could no doubt learn the whole truth from the face. But
he is bound to fall into errors, and by limiting the field of vision he
minimises the opportunity for correction. The face is, after all, quite
a small part of the individual's physical organism. An Englishman will
look at a woman's face and say she is a beautiful woman or a plain
woman. But a woman may have a plain face, and yet by her form be
entitled to be called beautiful, and (perhaps) _vice versa_. It is true
that the face is the reflexion of the soul. It is equally true that the
carriage and gestures are the reflection of the soul. Had one eyes, the
tying of a bootlace is the reflection of the soul. One piece of
evidence can be used to correct every other piece of evidence. A refined
face may be refuted by clumsy finger-ends; the eyes may contradict the
voice; the gait may nullify the smile. None of the phenomena which every
individual carelessly and brazenly displays in every motor-bus
terrorising the streets of London is meaningless or negligible.

Again, in observing we are generally guilty of that particularity which
results from sluggishness of the imagination. We may see the phenomenon
at the moment of looking at it, but we particularise in that moment,
making no effort to conceive what the phenomenon is likely to be at
other moments.

For example, a male human creature wakes up in the morning and rises
with reluctance. Being a big man, and existing with his wife and
children in a very confined space, he has to adapt himself to his
environment as he goes through the various functions incident to
preparing for his day's work. He is just like you or me. He wants his
breakfast, he very much wants to know where his boots are, and he has
the usually sinister preoccupations about health and finance. Whatever
the force of his egoism, he must more or less harmonise his
individuality with those of his wife and children. Having laid down the
law, or accepted it, he sets forth to his daily duties, just a fraction
of a minute late. He arrives at his office, resumes life with his
colleagues sympathetic and antipathetic, and then leaves the office for
an expedition extending over several hours. In the course of his
expedition he encounters the corpse of a young dog run down by a
motor-bus. Now you also have encountered that corpse and are gazing at
it; and what do you say to yourself when he comes along? You say: "Oh!
Here's a policeman." For he happens to be a policeman. You stare at him,
and you never see anything but a policeman--an indivisible phenomenon of
blue cloth, steel buttons, flesh resembling a face, and a helmet; "a
stalwart guardian of the law"; to you little more human than an
algebraic symbol: in a word--a policeman.

Only, that word actually conveys almost nothing to you of the reality
which it stands for. You are satisfied with it as you are satisfied with
the description of a disease. A friend tells you his eyesight is
failing. You sympathise. "What is it?" you ask. "Glaucoma." "Ah!
Glaucoma!" You don't know what glaucoma is. You are no wiser than you
were before. But you are content. A name has contented you. Similarly
the name of policeman contents you, seems to absolve you from further
curiosity as to the phenomenon. You have looked at tens of thousands of
policemen, and perhaps never seen the hundredth part of the reality of a
single one. Your imagination has not truly worked on the phenomenon.

There may be some excuse for not seeing the reality of a policeman,
because a uniform is always a thick veil. But you--I mean you, I, any
of us--are oddly dim-sighted also in regard to the civil population. For
instance, we get into the empty motor-bus as it leaves the scene of the
street accident, and examine the men and women who gradually fill it.
Probably we vaunt ourselves as being interested in the spectacle of
life. All the persons in the motor-bus have come out of a past and are
moving towards a future. But how often does our imagination put itself
to the trouble of realising this? We may observe with some care, yet
owing to a fundamental defect of attitude we are observing not the human
individuals, but a peculiar race of beings who pass their whole lives in
motor-buses, who exist only in motor-buses and only in the present! No
human phenomenon is adequately seen until the imagination has placed it
back into its past and forward into its future. And this is the final
process of observation of the individual.




VII


Seeing life, as I have tried to show, does not begin with seeing the
individual. Neither does it end with seeing the individual. Particular
and unsystematised observation cannot go on for ever, aimless, formless.
Just as individuals are singled out from systems, in the earlier process
of observation, so in the later processes individuals will be formed
into new groups, which formation will depend upon the personal bent of
the observer. The predominant interests of the observer will ultimately
direct his observing activities to their own advantage. If he is excited
by the phenomena of organisation--as I happen to be--he will see
individuals in new groups that are the result of organisation, and will
insist on the variations from type due to that grouping. If he is
convinced--as numbers of people appear to be--that society is just now
in an extremely critical pass, and that if something mysterious is not
forthwith done the structure of it will crumble to atoms--he will see
mankind grouped under the different reforms which, according to him, the
human dilemma demands. And so on! These tendencies, while they should
not be resisted too much, since they give character to observation and
redeem it from the frigidity of mechanics, should be resisted to a
certain extent. For, whatever they may be, they favour the growth of
sentimentality, the protean and indescribably subtle enemy of common
sense.




PART II

WRITING NOVELS


I


The novelist is he who, having seen life, and being so excited by it
that he absolutely must transmit the vision to others, chooses narrative
fiction as the liveliest vehicle for the relief of his feelings. He is
like other artists--he cannot remain silent; he cannot keep himself to
himself, he is bursting with the news; he is bound to tell--the affair
is too thrilling! Only he differs from most artists in this--that what
most chiefly strikes him is the indefinable humanness of human nature,
the large general manner of existing. Of course, he is the result of
evolution from the primitive. And you can see primitive novelists to
this day transmitting to acquaintances their fragmentary and crude
visions of life in the cafe or the club, or on the kerbstone. They
belong to the lowest circle of artists; but they are artists; and the
form that they adopt is the very basis of the novel. By innumerable
entertaining steps from them you may ascend to the major artist whose
vision of life, inclusive, intricate and intense, requires for its due
transmission the great traditional form of the novel as perfected by the
masters of a long age which has temporarily set the novel higher than
any other art-form.

I would not argue that the novel should be counted supreme among the
great traditional forms of art. Even if there is a greatest form, I do
not much care which it is. I have in turn been convinced that Chartres
Cathedral, certain Greek sculpture, Mozart's _Don Juan_, and the
juggling of Paul Cinquevalli, was the finest thing in the world--not to
mention the achievements of Shakspere or Nijinsky. But there is
something to be said for the real pre-eminence of prose fiction as a
literary form. (Even the modern epic has learnt almost all it knows from
prose-fiction.) The novel has, and always will have, the advantage of
its comprehensive bigness. St Peter's at Rome is a trifle compared with
Tolstoi's _War and Peace_; and it is as certain as anything can be that,
during the present geological epoch at any rate, no epic half as long as
_War and Peace_ will ever be read, even if written.

Notoriously the novelist (including the playwright, who is a
sub-novelist) has been taking the bread out of the mouths of other
artists. In the matter of poaching, the painter has done a lot, and the
composer has done more, but what the painter and the composer have done
is as naught compared to the grasping deeds of the novelist. And whereas
the painter and the composer have got into difficulties with their
audacious schemes, the novelist has poached, colonised, and annexed with
a success that is not denied. There is scarcely any aspect of the
interestingness of life which is not now rendered in prose fiction--from
landscape-painting to sociology--and none which might not be.
Unnecessary to go back to the ante-Scott age in order to perceive how
the novel has aggrandised itself! It has conquered enormous territories
even since _Germinal_. Within the last fifteen years it has gained. Were
it to adopt the hue of the British Empire, the entire map of the
universe would soon be coloured red. Wherever it ought to stand in the
hierarchy of forms, it has, actually, no rival at the present day as a
means for transmitting the impassioned vision of life. It is, and will
be for some time to come, the form to which the artist with the most
inclusive vision instinctively turns, because it is the most inclusive
form, and the most adaptable. Indeed, before we are much older, if its
present rate of progress continues, it will have reoccupied the dazzling
position to which the mighty Balzac lifted it, and in which he left it
in 1850. So much, by the way, for the rank of the novel.




II


In considering the equipment of the novelist there are two attributes
which may always be taken for granted. The first is the sense of
beauty--indispensable to the creative artist. Every creative artist has
it, in his degree. He is an artist because he has it. An artist works
under the stress of instinct. No man's instinct can draw him towards
material which repels him--the fact is obvious. Obviously, whatever kind
of life the novelist writes about, he has been charmed and seduced by
it, he is under its spell--that is, he has seen beauty in it. He could
have no other reason for writing about it. He may see a strange sort of
beauty; he may--indeed he does--see a sort of beauty that nobody has
quite seen before; he may see a sort of beauty that none save a few odd
spirits ever will or can be made to see. But he does see beauty. To
say, after reading a novel which has held you, that the author has no
sense of beauty, is inept. (The mere fact that you turned over his pages
with interest is an answer to the criticism--a criticism, indeed, which
is not more sagacious than that of the reviewer who remarks: "Mr Blank
has produced a thrilling novel, but unfortunately he cannot write." Mr
Blank has written; and he could, anyhow, write enough to thrill the
reviewer.) All that a wise person will assert is that an artist's sense
of beauty is different for the time being from his own.

The reproach of the lack of a sense of beauty has been brought against
nearly all original novelists; it is seldom brought against a mediocre
novelist. Even in the extreme cases it is untrue; perhaps it is most
untrue in the extreme cases. I do not mean such a case as that of Zola,
who never went to extremes. I mean, for example, Gissing, a real
extremist, who, it is now admitted, saw a clear and undiscovered beauty
in forms of existence which hitherto no artist had deigned seriously to
examine. And I mean Huysmans, a case even more extreme. Possibly no
works have been more abused for ugliness than Huysman's novel _En
Menage_ and his book of descriptive essays _De Tout_. Both reproduce
with exasperation what is generally regarded as the sordid ugliness of
commonplace daily life. Yet both exercise a unique charm (and will
surely be read when _La Cathedrale_ is forgotten). And it is
inconceivable that Huysmans--whatever he may have said--was not ravished
by the secret beauty of his subjects and did not exult in it.

The other attribute which may be taken for granted in the novelist, as
in every artist, is passionate intensity of vision. Unless the vision is
passionately intense the artist will not be moved to transmit it. He
will not be inconvenienced by it; and the motive to pass it on will thus
not exist. Every fine emotion produced in the reader has been, and must
have been, previously felt by the writer, but in a far greater degree.
It is not altogether uncommon to hear a reader whose heart has been
desolated by the poignancy of a narrative complain that the writer is
unemotional. Such people have no notion at all of the processes of
artistic creation.




III


A sense of beauty and a passionate intensity of vision being taken for
granted, the one other important attribute in the equipment of the
novelist--the attribute which indeed by itself practically suffices, and
whose absence renders futile all the rest--is fineness of mind. A great
novelist must have great qualities of mind. His mind must be
sympathetic, quickly responsive, courageous, honest, humorous, tender,
just, merciful. He must be able to conceive the ideal without losing
sight of the fact that it is a human world we live in. Above all, his
mind must be permeated and controlled by common sense. His mind, in a
word, must have the quality of being noble. Unless his mind is all this,
he will never, at the ultimate bar, be reckoned supreme. That which
counts, on every page, and all the time, is the very texture of his
mind--the glass through which he sees things. Every other attribute is
secondary, and is dispensable. Fielding lives unequalled among English
novelists because the broad nobility of his mind is unequalled. He is
read with unreserved enthusiasm because the reader feels himself at each
paragraph to be in close contact with a glorious personality. And no
advance in technique among later novelists can possibly imperil his
position. He will take second place when a more noble mind, a more
superb common sense, happens to wield the narrative pen, and not before.
What undermines the renown of Dickens is the growing conviction that the
texture of his mind was common, that he fell short in courageous facing
of the truth, and in certain delicacies of perception. As much may be
said of Thackeray, whose mind was somewhat incomplete for so grandiose a
figure, and not free from defects which are inimical to immortality.

It is a hard saying for me, and full of danger in any country whose
artists have shown contempt for form, yet I am obliged to say that, as
the years pass, I attach less and less importance to good technique in
fiction. I love it, and I have fought for a better recognition of its
importance in England, but I now have to admit that the modern history
of fiction will not support me. With the single exception of Turgenev,
the great novelists of the world, according to my own standards, have
either ignored technique or have failed to understand it. What an error
to suppose that the finest foreign novels show a better sense of form
than the finest English novels! Balzac was a prodigious blunderer. He
could not even manage a sentence, not to speak of the general form of a
book. And as for a greater than Balzac--Stendhal--his scorn of technique
was notorious. Stendhal was capable of writing, in a masterpiece: "By
the way I ought to have told you earlier that the Duchess--!" And as for
a greater than either Balzac or Stendhal--Dostoievsky--what a hasty,
amorphous lump of gold is the sublime, the unapproachable _Brothers
Karamazov_! Any tutor in a college for teaching the whole art of fiction
by post in twelve lessons could show where Dostoievsky was clumsy and
careless. What would have been Flaubert's detailed criticism of that
book? And what would it matter? And, to take a minor example,
witness the comically amateurish technique of the late "Mark
Rutherford"--nevertheless a novelist whom one can deeply admire.

And when we come to consider the great technicians, Guy de Maupassant
and Flaubert, can we say that their technique will save them, or atone
in the slightest degree for the defects of their minds? Exceptional
artists both, they are both now inevitably falling in esteem to the
level of the second-rate. Human nature being what it is, and de
Maupassant being tinged with eroticism, his work is sure to be read with
interest by mankind; but he is already classed. Nobody, now, despite
all his brilliant excellences, would dream of putting de Maupassant with
the first magnitudes. And the declension of Flaubert is one of the
outstanding phenomena of modern French criticism. It is being discovered
that Flaubert's mind was not quite noble enough--that, indeed, it was a
cruel mind, and a little anaemic. _Bouvard et Pecuchet_ was the crowning
proof that Flaubert had lost sight of the humanness of the world, and
suffered from the delusion that he had been born on the wrong planet.
The glitter of his technique is dulled now, and fools even count it
against him. In regard to one section of human activity only did his
mind seem noble--namely, literary technique. His correspondence,
written, of course, currently, was largely occupied with the question of
literary technique, and his correspondence stands forth to-day as his
best work--a marvellous fount of inspiration to his fellow artists. So I
return to the point that the novelist's one important attribute (beyond
the two postulated) is fundamental quality of mind. It and nothing else
makes both the friends and the enemies which he has; while the influence
of technique is slight and transitory. And I repeat that it is a hard
saying.

I begin to think that great writers of fiction are by the mysterious
nature of their art ordained to be "amateurs." There may be something of
the amateur in all great artists. I do not know why it should be so,
unless because, in the exuberance of their sense of power, they are
impatient of the exactitudes of systematic study and the mere bother of
repeated attempts to arrive at a minor perfection. Assuredly no great
artist was ever a profound scholar. The great artist has other ends to
achieve. And every artist, major and minor, is aware in his conscience
that art is full of artifice, and that the desire to proceed rapidly
with the affair of creation, and an excusable dislike of re-creating
anything twice, thrice, or ten times over--unnatural task!--are
responsible for much of that artifice. We can all point in excuse to
Shakspere, who was a very rough-and-ready person, and whose methods
would shock Flaubert. Indeed, the amateurishness of Shakspere has been
mightily exposed of late years. But nobody seems to care. If Flaubert
had been a greater artist he might have been more of an amateur.




IV


Of this poor neglected matter of technique the more important branch is
design--or construction. It is the branch of the art--of all arts--which
comes next after "inspiration"--a capacious word meant to include
everything that the artist must be born with and cannot acquire. The
less important branch of technique--far less important--may be described
as an ornamentation.

There are very few rules of design in the novel; but the few are
capital. Nevertheless, great novelists have often flouted or ignored
them--to the detriment of their work. In my opinion the first rule is
that the interest must be centralised; it must not be diffused equally
over various parts of the canvas. To compare one art with another may be
perilous, but really the convenience of describing a novel as a canvas
is extreme. In a well-designed picture the eye is drawn chiefly to one
particular spot. If the eye is drawn with equal force to several
different spots, then we reproach the painter for having "scattered" the
interest of the picture. Similarly with the novel. A novel must have
one, two, or three figures that easily overtop the rest. These figures
must be in the foreground, and the rest in the middle-distance or in the
back-ground.

Moreover, these figures--whether they are saints or sinners--must
somehow be presented more sympathetically than the others. If this
cannot be done, then the inspiration is at fault. The single motive that
should govern the choice of a principal figure is the motive of love for
that figure. What else could the motive be? The race of heroes is
essential to art. But what makes a hero is less the deeds of the figure
chosen than the understanding sympathy of the artist with the figure. To
say that the hero has disappeared from modern fiction is absurd. All
that has happened is that the characteristics of the hero have changed,
naturally, with the times. When Thackeray wrote "a novel without a
hero," he wrote a novel with a first-class hero, and nobody knew this
better than Thackeray. What he meant was that he was sick of the
conventional bundle of characteristics styled a hero in his day, and
that he had changed the type. Since then we have grown sick of Dobbins,
and the type has been changed again more than once. The fateful hour
will arrive when we shall be sick of Ponderevos.

The temptation of the great novelist, overflowing with creative force,
is to scatter the interest. In both his major works Tolstoi found the
temptation too strong for him. _Anna Karenina_ is not one novel, but
two, and suffers accordingly. As for _War and Peace_, the reader wanders
about in it as in a forest, for days, lost, deprived of a sense of
direction, and with no vestige of a sign-post; at intervals
encountering mysterious faces whose identity he in vain tries to recall.
On a much smaller scale Meredith committed the same error. Who could
assert positively which of the sisters Fleming is the heroine of _Rhoda
Fleming_? For nearly two hundred pages at a stretch Rhoda scarcely
appears. And more than once the author seems quite to forget that the
little knave Algernon is not, after all, the hero of the story.

The second rule of design--perhaps in the main merely a different view
of the first--is that the interest must be maintained. It may increase,
but it must never diminish. Here is that special aspect of design which
we call construction, or plot. By interest I mean the interest of the
story itself, and not the interest of the continual play of the author's
mind on his material. In proportion as the interest of the story is
maintained, the plot is a good one. In so far as it lapses, the plot is
a bad one. There is no other criterion of good construction. Readers of
a certain class are apt to call good the plot of that story in which
"you can't tell what is going to happen next." But in some of the most
tedious novels ever written you can't tell what is going to happen
next--and you don't care a fig what is going to happen next. It would be
nearer the mark to say that the plot is good when "you want to make sure
what will happen next"! Good plots set you anxiously guessing what will
happen next.

When the reader is misled--not intentionally in order to get an effect,
but clumsily through amateurishness--then the construction is bad. This
calamity does not often occur in fine novels, but in really good work
another calamity does occur with far too much frequency--namely, the
tantalising of the reader at a critical point by a purposeless, wanton,
or negligent shifting of the interest from the major to the minor theme.
A sad example of this infantile trick is to be found in the thirty-first
chapter of _Rhoda_ _Fleming_, wherein, well knowing that the reader is
tingling for the interview between Roberts and Rhoda, the author, unable
to control his own capricious and monstrous fancy for Algernon, devotes
some sixteen pages to the young knave's vagaries with an illicit
thousand pounds. That the sixteen pages are excessively brilliant does
not a bit excuse the wilful unshapeliness of the book's design.

The Edwardian and Georgian out-and-out defenders of Victorian fiction
are wont to argue that though the event-plot in sundry great novels may
be loose and casual (that is to say, simply careless), the "idea-plot"
is usually close-knit, coherent, and logical. I have never yet been able
to comprehend how an idea-plot can exist independently of an event-plot
(any more than how spirit can be conceived apart from matter); but
assuming that an idea-plot can exist independently, and that the
mysterious thing is superior in form to its coarse fellow, the
event-plot (which I positively do not believe),--even then I still hold
that sloppiness in the fabrication of the event-plot amounts to a grave
iniquity. In this connection I have in mind, among English novels,
chiefly the work of "Mark Rutherford," George Eliot, the Brontes, and
Anthony Trollope.

The one other important rule in construction is that the plot should be
kept throughout within the same convention. All plots--even those of our
most sacred naturalistic contemporaries--are and must be a
conventionalisation of life. We imagine we have arrived at a convention
which is nearer to the truth of life than that of our forerunners.
Perhaps we have--but so little nearer that the difference is scarcely
appreciable! An aviator at midday may be nearer the sun than the
motorist, but regarded as a portion of the entire journey to the sun,
the aviator's progress upward can safely be ignored. No novelist has
yet, or ever will, come within a hundred million miles of life itself.
It is impossible for us to see how far we still are from life. The
defects of a new convention disclose themselves late in its career. The
notion that "naturalists" have at last lighted on a final formula which
ensures truth to life is ridiculous. "Naturalist" is merely an epithet
expressing self-satisfaction.

Similarly, the habit of deriding as "conventional" plots constructed in
an earlier convention, is ridiculous. Under this head Dickens in
particular has been assaulted; I have assaulted him myself. But within
their convention, the plots of Dickens are excellent, and show little
trace of amateurishness, and every sign of skilled accomplishment. And
Dickens did not blunder out of one convention into another, as certain
of ourselves undeniably do. Thomas Hardy, too, has been arraigned for
the conventionalism of his plots. And yet Hardy happens to be one of the
rare novelists who have evolved a new convention to suit their
idiosyncrasy. Hardy's idiosyncrasy is a deep conviction of the
whimsicality of the divine power, and again and again he has expressed
this with a virtuosity of skill which ought to have put humility into
the hearts of naturalists, but which has not done so. The plot of _The
Woodlanders_ is one of the most exquisite examples of subtle symbolic
illustration of an idea that a writer of fiction ever achieved; it makes
the symbolism of Ibsen seem crude. You may say that _The Woodlanders_
could not have occurred in real life. No novel could have occurred in
real life. The balance of probabilities is incalculably against any
novel whatsoever; and rightly so. A convention is essential, and the
duty of a novelist is to be true within his chosen convention, and not
further. Most novelists still fail in this duty. Is there any reason,
indeed, why we should be so vastly cleverer than our fathers? I do not
think we are.




V

Leaving the seductive minor question of ornamentation, I come lastly to
the question of getting the semblance of life on to the page before the
eyes of the reader--the daily and hourly texture of existence. The
novelist has selected his subject; he has drenched himself in his
subject. He has laid down the main features of the design. The living
embryo is there, and waits to be developed into full organic structure.
Whence and how does the novelist obtain the vital tissue which must be
his material? The answer is that he digs it out of himself. First-class
fiction is, and must be, in the final resort autobiographical. What else
should it be? The novelist may take notes of phenomena likely to be of
use to him. And he may acquire the skill to invent very apposite
illustrative incident. But he cannot invent psychology. Upon occasion
some human being may entrust him with confidences extremely precious for
his craft. But such windfalls are so rare as to be negligible. From
outward symptoms he can guess something of the psychology of others. He
can use a real person as the unrecognisable but helpful basis for each
of his characters.... And all that is nothing. And all special research
is nothing. When the real intimate work of creation has to be done--and
it has to be done on every page--the novelist can only look within for
effective aid. Almost solely by arranging and modifying what he has felt
and seen, and scarcely at all by inventing, can he accomplish his end.
An inquiry into the career of any first-class novelist invariably
reveals that his novels are full of autobiography. But, as a fact, every
good novel contains far more autobiography than any inquiry could
reveal. Episodes, moods, characters of autobiography can be detected and
traced to their origin by critical acumen, but the intimate
autobiography that runs through each page, vitalising it, may not be
detected. In dealing with each character in each episode the novelist
must for a thousand convincing details interrogate that part of his own
individuality which corresponds to the particular character. The
foundation of his equipment is universal sympathy. And the result of
this (or the cause--I don't know which) is that in his own individuality
there is something of everybody. If he is a born novelist he is safe in
asking himself, when in doubt as to the behaviour of a given personage
at a given point: "Now, what should _I_ have done?" And incorporating
the answer! And this in practice is what he does. Good fiction is
autobiography dressed in the colours of all mankind.

The necessarily autobiographical nature of fiction accounts for the
creative repetition to which all novelists--including the most
powerful--are reduced. They monotonously yield again and again to the
strongest predilections of their own individuality. Again and again they
think they are creating, by observation, a quite new character--and lo!
when finished it is an old one--autobiographical psychology has
triumphed! A novelist may achieve a reputation with only a single type,
created and re-created in varying forms. And the very greatest do not
contrive to create more than half a score genuine separate types. In
Cerfberr and Christophe's biographical dictionary of the characters of
Balzac, a tall volume of six hundred pages, there are some two thousand
entries of different individuals, but probably fewer than a dozen
genuine distinctive types. No creative artist ever repeated himself more
brazenly or more successfully than Balzac. His miser, his vicious
delightful actress, his vicious delightful duchess, his young
man-about-town, his virtuous young man, his heroic weeping virgin, his
angelic wife and mother, his poor relation, and his faithful stupid
servant--each is continually popping up with a new name in the Human
Comedy. A similar phenomenon, as Frank Harris has proved, is to be
observed in Shakspere. Hamlet of Denmark was only the last and greatest
of a series of Shaksperean Hamlets.

It may be asked, finally: What of the actual process of handling the raw
material dug out of existence and of the artist's self--the process of
transmuting life into art? There is no process. That is to say, there is
no conscious process. The convention chosen by an artist is his illusion
of the truth. Consciously, the artist only omits, selects, arranges. But
let him beware of being false to his illusion, for then the process
becomes conscious, and bad. This is sentimentality, which is the seed of
death in his work. Every artist is tempted to sentimentalise, or to be
cynical--practically the same thing. And when he falls to the
temptation, the reader whispers in his heart, be it only for one
instant: "That is not true to life." And in turn the reader's illusion
of reality is impaired. Readers are divided into two classes--the
enemies and the friends of the artist. The former, a legion, admire for
a fortnight or a year. They hate an uncompromising struggle for the
truth. They positively like the artist to fall to temptation. If he
falls, they exclaim, "How sweet!" The latter are capable of savouring
the fine unpleasantness of the struggle for truth. And when they whisper
in their hearts: "That is not true to life," they are ashamed for the
artist. They are few, very few; but a vigorous clan. It is they who
confer immortality.




PART III

WRITING PLAYS


I


There is an idea abroad, assiduously fostered as a rule by critics who
happen to have written neither novels nor plays, that it is more
difficult to write a play than a novel. I do not think so. I have
written or collaborated in about twenty novels and about twenty plays,
and I am convinced that it is easier to write a play than a novel.
Personally, I would sooner _write_ two plays than one novel; less
expenditure of nervous force and mere brains would be required for two
plays than for one novel. (I emphasise the word "write," because if the
whole weariness between the first conception and the first performance
of a play is compared with the whole weariness between the first
conception and the first publication of a novel, then the play has it. I
would sooner get seventy-and-seven novels produced than one play. But my
immediate object is to compare only writing with writing.) It seems to
me that the sole persons entitled to judge of the comparative difficulty
of writing plays and writing novels are those authors who have succeeded
or failed equally well in both departments. And in this limited band I
imagine that the differences of opinion on the point could not be
marked. I would like to note in passing, for the support of my
proposition, that whereas established novelists not infrequently venture
into the theatre with audacity, established dramatists are very cautious
indeed about quitting the theatre. An established dramatist usually
takes good care to write plays and naught else; he will not affront the
risks of coming out into the open; and therein his instinct is quite
properly that of self-preservation. Of many established dramatists all
over the world it may be affirmed that if they were so indiscreet as to
publish a novel, the result would be a great shattering and a great
awakening.




II


An enormous amount of vague reverential nonsense is talked about the
technique of the stage, the assumption being that in difficulty it far
surpasses any other literary technique, and that until it is acquired a
respectable play cannot be written. One hears also that it can only be
acquired behind the scenes. A famous actor-manager once kindly gave me
the benefit of his experience, and what he said was that a dramatist who
wished to learn his business must live behind the scenes--and study the
works of Dion Boucicault! The truth is that no technique is so crude and
so simple as the technique of the stage, and that the proper place to
learn it is not behind the scenes but in the pit. Managers, being the
most conservative people on earth, except compositors, will honestly try
to convince the naive dramatist that effects can only be obtained in
the precise way in which effects have always been obtained, and that
this and that rule must not be broken on pain of outraging the public.

And indeed it is natural that managers should talk thus, seeing the low
state of the drama, because in any art rules and reaction always
flourish when creative energy is sick. The mandarins have ever said and
will ever say that a technique which does not correspond with their own
is no technique, but simple clumsiness. There are some seven situations
in the customary drama, and a play which does not contain at least one
of those situations in each act will be condemned as "undramatic," or
"thin," or as being "all talk." It may contain half a hundred other
situations, but for the mandarin a situation which is not one of the
seven is not a situation. Similarly there are some dozen character
types in the customary drama, and all original--that is,
truthful--characterisation will be dismissed as a total absence of
characterisation because it does not reproduce any of these dozen types.
Thus every truly original play is bound to be indicted for bad
technique. The author is bound to be told that what he has written may
be marvellously clever, but that it is not a play. I remember the
day--and it is not long ago--when even so experienced and sincere a
critic as William Archer used to argue that if the "intellectual" drama
did not succeed with the general public, it was because its technique
was not up to the level of the technique of the commercial drama!
Perhaps he has changed his opinion since then. Heaven knows that the
so-called "intellectual" drama is amateurish enough, but nearly all
literary art is amateurish, and assuredly no intellectual drama could
hope to compete in clumsiness with some of the most successful
commercial plays of modern times. I tremble to think what the mandarins
and William Archer would say to the technique of _Hamlet_, could it by
some miracle be brought forward as a new piece by a Mr Shakspere. They
would probably recommend Mr Shakspere to consider the ways of Sardou,
Henri Bernstein, and Sir Herbert Tree, and be wise. Most positively they
would assert that _Hamlet_ was not a play. And their pupils of the daily
press would point out--what surely Mr Shakspere ought to have perceived
for himself--that the second, third, or fourth act might be cut
wholesale without the slightest loss to the piece.

In the sense in which mandarins understand the word technique, there is
no technique special to the stage except that which concerns the moving
of solid human bodies to and fro, and the limitations of the human
senses. The dramatist must not expect his audience to be able to see or
hear two things at once, nor to be incapable of fatigue. And he must not
expect his interpreters to stroll round or come on or go off in a
satisfactory manner unless he provides them with satisfactory reasons
for strolling round, coming on, or going off. Lastly, he must not expect
his interpreters to achieve physical impossibilities. The dramatist who
sends a pretty woman off in street attire and seeks to bring her on
again in thirty seconds fully dressed for a court ball may fail in stage
technique, but he has not proved that stage technique is tremendously
difficult; he has proved something quite else.




III


One reason why a play is easier to write than a novel is that a play is
shorter than a novel. On the average, one may say that it takes six
plays to make the matter of a novel. Other things being equal, a short
work of art presents fewer difficulties than a longer one. The contrary
is held true by the majority, but then the majority, having never
attempted to produce a long work of art, are unqualified to offer an
opinion. It is said that the most difficult form of poetry is the
sonnet. But the most difficult form of poetry is the epic. The proof
that the sonnet is the most difficult form is alleged to be in the
fewness of perfect sonnets. There are, however, far more perfect sonnets
than perfect epics. A perfect sonnet may be a heavenly accident. But
such accidents can never happen to writers of epics. Some years ago we
had an enormous palaver about the "art of the short story," which
numerous persons who had omitted to write novels pronounced to be more
difficult than the novel. But the fact remains that there are scores of
perfect short stories, whereas it is doubtful whether anybody but
Turgenev ever did write a perfect novel. A short form is easier to
manipulate than a long form, because its construction is less
complicated, because the balance of its proportions can be more easily
corrected by means of a rapid survey, because it is lawful and even
necessary in it to leave undone many things which are very hard to do,
and because the emotional strain is less prolonged. The most difficult
thing in all art is to maintain the imaginative tension unslackened
throughout a considerable period.

Then, not only does a play contain less matter than a novel--it is
further simplified by the fact that it contains fewer kinds of matter,
and less subtle kinds of matter. There are numerous delicate and
difficult affairs of craft that the dramatist need not think about at
all. If he attempts to go beyond a certain very mild degree of subtlety,
he is merely wasting his time. What passes for subtle on the stage would
have a very obvious air in a novel, as some dramatists have unhappily
discovered. Thus whole continents of danger may be shunned by the
dramatist, and instead of being scorned for his cowardice he will be
very rightly applauded for his artistic discretion. Fortunate
predicament! Again, he need not--indeed, he must not--save in a
primitive and hinting manner, concern himself with "atmosphere." He may
roughly suggest one, but if he begins on the feat of "creating" an
atmosphere (as it is called), the last suburban train will have departed
before he has reached the crisis of the play. The last suburban train is
the best friend of the dramatist, though the fellow seldom has the sense
to see it. Further, he is saved all descriptive work. See a novelist
harassing himself into his grave over the description of a landscape, a
room, a gesture--while the dramatist grins. The dramatist may have to
imagine a landscape, a room, or a gesture; but he has not got to write
it--and it is the writing which hastens death. If a dramatist and a
novelist set out to portray a clever woman, they are almost equally
matched, because each has to make the creature say things and do things.
But if they set out to portray a charming woman, the dramatist can
recline in an easy chair and smoke while the novelist is ruining temper,
digestion and eyesight, and spreading terror in his household by his
moodiness and unapproachability. The electric light burns in the
novelist's study at three a.m.,--the novelist is still endeavouring to
convey by means of words the extraordinary fascination that his heroine
could exercise over mankind by the mere act of walking into a room; and
he never has really succeeded and never will. The dramatist writes
curtly, "Enter Millicent." All are anxious to do the dramatist's job for
him. Is the play being read at home--the reader eagerly and with
brilliant success puts his imagination to work and completes a charming
Millicent after his own secret desires. (Whereas he would coldly decline
to add one touch to Millicent were she the heroine of a novel.) Is the
play being performed on the stage--an experienced, conscientious, and
perhaps lovely actress will strive her hardest to prove that the
dramatist was right about Millicent's astounding fascination. And if she
fails, nobody will blame the dramatist; the dramatist will receive
naught but sympathy.

And there is still another region of superlative difficulty which is
narrowly circumscribed for the spoilt dramatist: I mean the whole
business of persuading the public that the improbable is probable. Every
work of art is and must be crammed with improbabilities and artifice;
and the greater portion of the artifice is employed in just this
trickery of persuasion. Only, the public of the dramatist needs far less
persuading than the public of the novelist. The novelist announces that
Millicent accepted the hand of the wrong man, and in spite of all the
novelist's corroborative and exegetical detail the insulted reader
declines to credit the statement and condemns the incident as
unconvincing. The dramatist decides that Millicent must accept the hand
of the wrong man, and there she is on the stage in flesh and blood,
veritably doing it! Not easy for even the critical beholder to maintain
that Millicent could not and did not do such a silly thing when he has
actually with his eyes seen her in the very act! The dramatist, as
usual, having done less, is more richly rewarded by results.

Of course it will be argued, as it has always been argued, by those who
have not written novels, that it is precisely the "doing less"--the
leaving out--that constitutes the unique and fearful difficulty of
dramatic art. "The skill to leave out"--lo! the master faculty of the
dramatist! But, in the first place, I do not believe that, having regard
to the relative scope of the play and of the novel, the necessity for
leaving out is more acute in the one than in the other. The adjective
"photographic" is as absurd applied to the novel as to the play. And, in
the second place, other factors being equal, it is less exhausting, and
it requires less skill, to refrain from doing than to do. To know when
to refrain from doing may be hard, but positively to do is even harder.
Sometimes, listening to partisans of the drama, I have been moved to
suggest that, if the art of omission is so wondrously difficult, a
dramatist who practised the habit of omitting to write anything whatever
ought to be hailed as the supreme craftsman.




IV


The more closely one examines the subject, the more clear and certain
becomes the fact that there is only one fundamental artistic difference
between the novel and the play, and that difference (to which I shall
come later) is not the difference which would be generally named as
distinguishing the play from the novel. The apparent differences are
superficial, and are due chiefly to considerations of convenience.

Whether in a play or in a novel the creative artist has to tell a
story--using the word story in a very wide sense. Just as a novel is
divided into chapters, and for a similar reason, a play is divided into
acts. But neither chapters nor acts are necessary. Some of Balzac's
chief novels have no chapter-divisions, and it has been proved that a
theatre audience can and will listen for two hours to "talk," and even
recitative singing, on the stage, without a pause. Indeed, audiences,
under the compulsion of an artist strong and imperious enough, could, I
am sure, be trained to marvellous feats of prolonged receptivity.
However, chapters and acts are usual, and they involve the same
constructional processes on the part of the artist. The entire play or
novel must tell a complete story--that is, arouse a curiosity and
reasonably satisfy it, raise a main question and then settle it. And
each act or other chief division must tell a definite portion of the
story, satisfy part of the curiosity, settle part of the question. And
each scene or other minor division must do the same according to its
scale. Everything basic that applies to the technique of the novel
applies equally to the technique of the play.

In particular, I would urge that a play, any more than a novel, need not
be dramatic, employing the term as it is usually employed. In so far as
it suspends the listener's interest, every tale, however told, may be
said to be dramatic. In this sense _The Golden Bowl_ is dramatic; so are
_Dominique_ and _Persuasion_. A play need not be more dramatic than
that. Very emphatically a play need not be dramatic in the stage sense.
It need never induce interest to the degree of excitement. It need have
nothing that resembles what would be recognisable in the theatre as a
situation. It may amble on--and it will still be a play, and it may
succeed in pleasing either the fastidious hundreds or the unfastidious
hundreds of thousands, according to the talent of the author. Without
doubt mandarins will continue for about a century yet to excommunicate
certain plays from the category of plays. But nobody will be any the
worse. And dramatists will go on proving that whatever else divides a
play from a book, "dramatic quality" does not. Some arch-Mandarin may
launch at me one of those mandarinic epigrammatic questions which are
supposed to overthrow the adversary at one dart. "Do you seriously mean
to argue, sir, that drama need not be dramatic?" I do, if the word
dramatic is to be used in the mandarinic signification. I mean to state
that some of the finest plays of the modern age differ from a
psychological novel in nothing but the superficial form of telling.
Example, Henri Becque's _La Parisienne_, than which there is no better.
If I am asked to give my own definition of the adjective "dramatic," I
would say that that story is dramatic which is told in dialogue imagined
to be spoken by actors and actresses on the stage, and that any narrower
definition is bound to exclude some genuine plays universally accepted
as such--even by mandarins. For be it noted that the mandarin is never
consistent.

My definition brings me to the sole technical difference between a play
and a novel--in the play the story is told by means of a dialogue. It is
a difference less important than it seems, and not invariably even a
sure point of distinction between the two kinds of narrative. For a
novel may consist exclusively of dialogue. And plays may contain other
matter than dialogue. The classic chorus is not dialogue. But nowadays
we should consider the device of the chorus to be clumsy, as, nowadays,
it indeed would be. We have grown very ingenious and clever at the
trickery of making characters talk to the audience and explain
themselves and their past history while seemingly innocent of any such
intention. And here, I admit, the dramatist has to face a difficulty
special to himself, which the novelist can avoid. I believe it to be the
sole difficulty which is peculiar to the drama, and that it is not acute
is proved by the ease with which third-rate dramatists have generally
vanquished it. Mandarins are wont to assert that the dramatist is also
handicapped by the necessity for rigid economy in the use of material.
This is not so. Rigid economy in the use of material is equally
advisable in every form of art. If it is a necessity, it is a necessity
which all artists flout from time to time, and occasionally with
gorgeous results, and the successful dramatist has hitherto not been
less guilty of flouting it than the novelist or any other artist.




V


And now, having shown that some alleged differences between the play and
the novel are illusory, and that a certain technical difference, though
possibly real, is superficial and slight, I come to the fundamental
difference between them--a difference which the laity does not suspect,
which is seldom insisted upon and never sufficiently, but which nobody
who is well versed in the making of both plays and novels can fail to
feel profoundly. The emotional strain of writing a play is not merely
less prolonged than that of writing a novel, it is less severe even
while it lasts, lower in degree and of a less purely creative character.
And herein is the chief of all the reasons why a play is easier to write
than a novel. The drama does not belong exclusively to literature,
because its effect depends on something more than the composition of
words. The dramatist is the sole author of a play, but he is not the
sole creator of it. Without him nothing can be done, but, on the other
hand, he cannot do everything himself. He begins the work of creation,
which is finished either by creative interpreters on the stage, or by
the creative imagination of the reader in the study. It is as if he
carried an immense weight to the landing at the turn of a flight of
stairs, and that thence upward the lifting had to be done by other
people. Consider the affair as a pyramidal structure, and the dramatist
is the base--but he is not the apex. A play is a collaboration of
creative faculties. The egotism of the dramatist resents this
uncomfortable fact, but the fact exists. And further, the creative
faculties are not only those of the author, the stage-director
("producer") and the actors--the audience itself is unconsciously part
of the collaboration.

Hence a dramatist who attempts to do the whole work of creation before
the acting begins is an inartistic usurper of the functions of others,
and will fail of proper accomplishment at the end. The dramatist must
deliberately, in performing his share of the work, leave scope for a
multitude of alien faculties whose operations he can neither precisely
foresee nor completely control. The point is not that in the writing of
a play there are various sorts of matters--as we have already
seen---which the dramatist must ignore; the point is that even in the
region proper to him he must not push the creative act to its final
limit. He must ever remember those who are to come after him. For
instance, though he must visualise a scene as he writes it, he should
not visualise it completely, as a novelist should. The novelist may
perceive vividly the faces of his personages, but if the playwright
insists on seeing faces, either he will see the faces of real actors and
hamper himself by moulding the scene to suit such real actors, or he
will perceive imaginary faces, and the ultimate interpretation will
perforce falsify his work and nullify his intentions. This aspect of the
subject might well be much amplified, but only for a public of
practising dramatists.




VI


When the play is "finished," the processes of collaboration have yet to
begin. The serious work of the dramatist is over, but the most
desolating part of his toil awaits him. I do not refer to the business
of arranging with a theatrical manager for the production of the play.
For, though that generally partakes of the nature of tragedy, it also
partakes of the nature of amusing burlesque, owing to the fact that
theatrical managers are--no doubt inevitably--theatrical. Nevertheless,
even the theatrical manager, while disclaiming the slightest interest in
anything more vital to the stage than the box-office, is himself in some
degree a collaborator, and is the first to show to the dramatist that a
play is not a play till it is performed. The manager reads the play,
and, to the dramatist's astonishment, reads quite a different play from
that which the dramatist imagines he wrote. In particular the manager
reads a play which can scarcely hope to succeed--indeed, a play against
whose chances of success ten thousand powerful reasons can be adduced.
It is remarkable that a manager nearly always foresees failure in a
manuscript, and very seldom success. The manager's profoundest
instinct--self-preservation again!--is to refuse a play; if he accepts,
it is against the grain, against his judgment--and out of a mad spirit
of adventure. Some of the most glittering successes have been rehearsed
in an atmosphere of settled despair. The dramatist naturally feels an
immense contempt for the opinions artistic and otherwise of the manager,
and he is therein justified. The manager's vocation is not to write
plays, nor (let us hope) to act in them, nor to direct the rehearsals of
them, and even his knowledge of the vagaries of his own box-office has
often proved to be pitiably delusive. The manager's true and only
vocation is to refrain from producing plays. Despite all this, however,
the manager has already collaborated in the play. The dramatist sees it
differently now. All sorts of new considerations have been presented to
him. Not a word has been altered; but it is noticeably another play.
Which is merely to say that the creative work on it which still remains
to be done has been more accurately envisaged. This strange experience
could not happen to a novel, because when a novel is written it is
finished.

And when the director of rehearsals, or producer, has been chosen, and
this priceless and mysterious person has his first serious confabulation
with the author, then at once the play begins to assume new
shapes--contours undreamt of by the author till that startling moment.
And even if the author has the temerity to conduct his own rehearsals,
similar disconcerting phenomena will occur; for the author as a producer
is a different fellow from the author as author. The producer is up
against realities. He, first, renders the play concrete, gradually
condenses its filmy vapours into a solid element.... He suggests the
casting. "What do you think of X. for the old man?" asks the producer.
The author is staggered. Is it conceivable that so renowned a producer
can have so misread and misunderstood the play? X. would be preposterous
as the old man. But the producer goes on talking. And suddenly the
author sees possibilities in X. But at the same time he sees a different
play from what he wrote. And quite probably he sees a more glorious
play. Quite probably he had not suspected how great a dramatist he
is.... Before the first rehearsal is called, the play, still without a
word altered, has gone through astounding creative transmutations; the
author recognises in it some likeness to his beloved child, but it is
the likeness of a first cousin.

At the first rehearsal, and for many rehearsals, to an extent perhaps
increasing, perhaps decreasing, the dramatist is forced into an
apologetic and self-conscious mood; and his mien is something between
that of a criminal who has committed a horrid offence and that of a
father over the crude body of a new-born child. Now in truth he deeply
realises that the play is a collaboration. In extreme cases he may be
brought to see that he himself is one of the less important factors in
the collaboration. The first preoccupation of the interpreters is not
with his play at all, but--quite rightly--with their own careers; if
they were not honestly convinced that their own careers were the chief
genuine excuse for the existence of the theatre and the play they would
not act very well. But, more than that, they do not regard his play as a
sufficient vehicle for the furtherance of their careers. At the most
favourable, what they secretly think is that if they are permitted to
exercise their talents on his play there is a chance that they may be
able to turn it into a sufficient vehicle for the furtherance of their
careers. The attitude of every actor towards his part is: "My part is
not much of a part as it stands, but if my individuality is allowed to
get into free contact with it, I may make something brilliant out of
it." Which attitude is a proper attitude, and an attitude in my opinion
justified by the facts of the case. The actor's phrase is that he
_creates_ a part, and he is right. He completes the labour of creation
begun by the author and continued by the producer, and if reasonable
liberty is not accorded to him--if either the author or the producer
attempts to do too much of the creative work--the result cannot be
satisfactory.

As the rehearsals proceed the play changes from day to day. However
autocratic the producer, however obstinate the dramatist, the play will
vary at each rehearsal like a large cloud in a gentle wind. It is never
the same play for two days together. Nor is this surprising, seeing
that every day and night a dozen, or it may be two dozen, human beings
endowed with the creative gift are creatively working on it. Every
dramatist who is candid with himself--I do not suggest that he should be
candid to the theatrical world--well knows that though his play is often
worsened by his collaborators it is also often improved,--and improved
in the most mysterious and dazzling manner--without a word being
altered. Producer and actors do not merely suggest possibilities, they
execute them. And the author is confronted by artistic phenomena for
which lawfully he may not claim credit. On the other hand, he may be
confronted by inartistic phenomena in respect to which lawfully he is
blameless, but which he cannot prevent; a rehearsal is like a
battle,--certain persons are theoretically in control, but in fact the
thing principally fights itself. And thus the creation goes on until the
dress-rehearsal, when it seems to have come to a stop. And the
dramatist lying awake in the night reflects, stoically, fatalistically:
"Well, that is the play that they have made of _my_ play!" And he may be
pleased or he may be disgusted. But if he attends the first performance
he cannot fail to notice, after the first few minutes of it, that he was
quite mistaken, and that what the actors are performing is still another
play. The audience is collaborating.




PART IV

THE ARTIST AND THE
PUBLIC


I


I can divide all the imaginative writers I have ever met into two
classes--those who admitted and sometimes proclaimed loudly that they
desired popularity; and those who expressed a noble scorn or a gentle
contempt for popularity. The latter, however, always failed to conceal
their envy of popular authors, and this envy was a phenomenon whose
truculent bitterness could not be surpassed even in political or
religious life. And indeed, since (as I have held in a previous chapter)
the object of the artist is to share his emotions with others, it would
be strange if the normal artist spurned popularity in order to keep his
emotions as much as possible to himself. An enormous amount of dishonest
nonsense has been and will be written by uncreative critics, of course
in the higher interests of creative authors, about popularity and the
proper attitude of the artist thereto. But possibly the attitude of a
first-class artist himself may prove a more valuable guide.

The _Letters of George Meredith_ (of which the first volume is a
magnificent unfolding of the character of a great man) are full of
references to popularity, references overt and covert. Meredith could
never--and quite naturally--get away from the idea of popularity. He was
a student of the English public, and could occasionally be unjust to it.
Writing to M. Andre Raffalovich (who had sent him a letter of
appreciation) in November, 1881, he said: "I venture to judge by your
name that you are at most but half English. I can consequently believe
in the feeling you express for the work of an unpopular writer.
Otherwise one would incline to be sceptical, for the English are given
to practical jokes, and to stir up the vanity of authors who are
supposed to languish in the shade amuses them." A remark curiously
unfair to the small, faithful band of admirers which Meredith then had.
The whole letter, while warmly and touchingly grateful, is gloomy.
Further on in it he says: "Good work has a fair chance to be recognised
in the end, and if not, what does it matter?" But there is constant
proof that it did matter very much. In a letter to William Hardman,
written when he was well and hopeful, he says: "Never mind: if we do but
get the public ear, oh, my dear old boy!" To Captain Maxse, in reference
to a vast sum of L8,000 paid by the _Cornhill_ people to George Eliot
(for an unreadable novel), he exclaims: "Bon Dieu! Will aught like this
ever happen to me?"

And to his son he was very explicit about the extent to which
unpopularity "mattered": "As I am unpopular I am ill-paid, and therefore
bound to work double tides, hardly ever able to lay down the pen. This
affects my weakened stomach, and so the round of the vicious circle is
looped." (Vol. I., p. 322.) And in another letter to Arthur Meredith
about the same time he sums up his career thus: "As for me, I have
failed, and I find little to make the end undesirable." (Vol. I., p.
318.) This letter is dated June 23rd, 1881. Meredith was then
fifty-three years of age. He had written _Modern Love_, _The Shaving of
Shagpat_, _The Ordeal of Richard Feverel_, _Rhoda Fleming_, _The Egoist_
and other masterpieces. He knew that he had done his best and that his
best was very fine. It would be difficult to credit that he did not
privately deem himself one of the masters of English literature and
destined to what we call immortality. He had the enthusiastic
appreciation of some of the finest minds of the epoch. And yet, "As for
me, I have failed, and I find little to make the end undesirable." But
he had not failed in his industry, nor in the quality of his work, nor
in achieving self-respect and the respect of his friends. He had failed
only in one thing--immediate popularity.




II


Assuming then that an author is justified in desiring immediate
popularity, instead of being content with poverty and the unheard
plaudits of posterity, another point presents itself. Ought he to limit
himself to a mere desire for popularity, or ought he actually to do
something, or to refrain from doing something, to the special end of
obtaining popularity? Ought he to say: "I shall write exactly what and
how I like, without any regard for the public; I shall consider nothing
but my own individuality and powers; I shall be guided solely by my own
personal conception of what the public ought to like"? Or ought he to
say: "Let me examine this public, and let me see whether some compromise
between us is not possible"?

Certain authors are never under the necessity of facing the
alternative. Occasionally, by chance, a genius may be so fortunately
constituted and so brilliantly endowed that he captures the public at
once, prestige being established, and the question of compromise never
arises. But this is exceedingly rare. On the other hand, many mediocre
authors, exercising the most complete sincerity, find ample appreciation
in the vast mediocrity of the public, and are never troubled by any
problem worse than the vagaries of their fountain-pens. Such authors
enjoy in plenty the gewgaw known as happiness. Of nearly all really
original artists, however, it may be said that they are at loggerheads
with the public--as an almost inevitable consequence of their
originality; and for them the problem of compromise or no-compromise
acutely exists.

George Meredith was such an artist. George Meredith before anything else
was a poet. He would have been a better poet than a novelist, and I
believe that he thought so. The public did not care for his poetry. If
he had belonged to the no-compromise school, whose adherents usually
have the effrontery to claim him, he would have said: "I shall keep on
writing poetry, even if I have to become a stockbroker in order to do
it." But when he was only thirty-three--a boy, as authors go--he had
already tired of no-compromise. He wrote to Augustus Jessopp: "It may be
that in a year or two I shall find time for a full sustained Song....
The worst is that having taken to prose delineations of character and
life, one's affections are divided.... And in truth, being a servant of
the public, _I must wait till my master commands before I take seriously
to singing_." (Vol. I., p. 45.) Here is as good an example as one is
likely to find of a first-class artist openly admitting the futility of
writing what will not be immediately read, when he can write something
else, less to his taste, that will be read. The same sentiment has
actuated an immense number of first-class creative artists, including
Shakspere, who would have been a rare client for a literary agent.... So
much for refraining from doing the precise sort of work one would prefer
to do because it is not appreciated by the public.

There remains the doing of a sort of work against the grain because the
public appreciates it--otherwise the pot-boiler. In 1861 Meredith wrote
to Mrs Ross: "I am engaged in extra potboiling work which enables me to
do this," i.e., to write an occasional long poem. (Vol. I., p. 52.) Oh,
base compromise! Seventeen years later he wrote to R.L. Stevenson: "Of
potboilers let none speak. Jove hangs them upon necks that could soar
above his heights but for the accursed weight." (Vol. I., p. 291.) It
may be said that Meredith was forced to write potboilers. He was no more
forced to write potboilers than any other author. Sooner than wallow in
that shame, he might have earned money in more difficult ways. Or he
might have indulged in that starvation so heartily prescribed for
authors by a plutocratic noble who occasionally deigns to employ the
English tongue in prose. Meredith subdued his muse, and Meredith wrote
potboilers, because he was a first-class artist and a man of profound
common sense. Being extremely creative, he had to arrive somehow, and he
remembered that the earth is the earth, and the world the world, and men
men, and he arrived as best he could. The great majority of his peers
have acted similarly.

The truth is that an artist who demands appreciation from the public on
his own terms, and on none but his own terms, is either a god or a
conceited and impractical fool. And he is somewhat more likely to be the
latter than the former. He wants too much. There are two sides to every
bargain, including the artistic. The most fertile and the most powerful
artists are the readiest to recognise this, because their sense of
proportion, which is the sense of order, is well developed. The lack of
the sense of proportion is the mark of the _petit maitre_. The sagacious
artist, while respecting himself, will respect the idiosyncrasies of his
public. To do both simultaneously is quite possible. In particular, the
sagacious artist will respect basic national prejudices. For example, no
first-class English novelist or dramatist would dream of allowing to his
pen the freedom in treating sexual phenomena which Continental writers
enjoy as a matter of course. The British public is admittedly wrong on
this important point--hypocritical, illogical and absurd. But what would
you? You cannot defy it; you literally cannot. If you tried, you would
not even get as far as print, to say nothing of library counters. You
can only get round it by ingenuity and guile. You can only go a very
little further than is quite safe. You can only do one man's modest
share in the education of the public.

In Valery Larbaud's latest novel, _A.O. Barnabooth,_ occurs a phrase of
deep wisdom about women: "_La femme est une grande realite, comme la
guerre_." It might be applied to the public. The public is a great
actuality, like war. If you are a creative and creating artist, you
cannot ignore it, though it can ignore you. There it is! You can do
something with it, but not much. And what you do not do with it, it must
do with you, if there is to be the contact which is essential to the
artistic function. This contact may be closened and completed by the
artist's cleverness--the mere cleverness of adaptability which most
first-class artists have exhibited. You can wear the fashions of the
day. You can tickle the ingenuous beast's ear in order to distract his
attention while you stab him in the chest. You can cajole money out of
him by one kind of work in order to gain leisure in which to force him
to accept later on something that he would prefer to refuse. You can use
a thousand devices on the excellent simpleton.... And in the process you
may degrade yourself to a mere popularity-hunter! Of course you may; as
you may become a drunkard through drinking a glass of beer. Only, if you
have anything to say worth saying, you usually don't succumb to this
danger. If you have anything to say worth saying, you usually manage
somehow to get it said, and read. The artist of genuine vocation is apt
to be a wily person. He knows how to sacrifice inessentials so that he
may retain essentials. And he can mysteriously put himself even into a
potboiler. _Clarissa Harlowe_, which influenced fiction throughout
Europe, was the direct result of potboiling. If the artist has not the
wit and the strength of mind to keep his own soul amid the collisions of
life, he is the inferior of a plain, honest merchant in stamina, and
ought to retire to the upper branches of the Civil Service.




III


When the author has finished the composition of a work, when he has put
into the trappings of the time as much of his eternal self as they will
safely hold, having regard to the best welfare of his creative career as
a whole, when, in short, he has done all that he can to ensure the
fullest public appreciation of the essential in him--there still remains
to be accomplished something which is not unimportant in the entire
affair of obtaining contact with the public. He has to see that the work
is placed before the public as advantageously as possible. In other
words, he has to dispose of the work as advantageously as possible. In
other words, when he lays down the pen he ought to become a merchant,
for the mere reason that he has an article to sell, and the more
skilfully he sells it the better will be the result, not only for the
public appreciation of his message, but for himself as a private
individual and as an artist with further activities in front of him.

Now this absolutely logical attitude of a merchant towards one's
finished work infuriates the dilettanti of the literary world, to whom
the very word "royalties" is anathema. They apparently would prefer to
treat literature as they imagine Byron treated it, although as a fact no
poet in a short life ever contrived to make as many pounds sterling out
of verse as Byron made. Or perhaps they would like to return to the
golden days when the author had to be "patronised" in order to exist; or
even to the mid-nineteenth century, when practically all authors save
the most successful--and not a few of the successful also--failed to
obtain the fair reward of their work. The dilettanti's snobbishness and
sentimentality prevent them from admitting that, in a democratic age,
when an author is genuinely appreciated, either he makes money or he is
the foolish victim of a scoundrel. They are fond of saying that
agreements and royalties have nothing to do with literature. But
agreements and royalties have a very great deal to do with literature.
Full contact between artist and public depends largely upon publisher or
manager being compelled to be efficient and just. And upon the
publisher's or manager's efficiency and justice depend also the dignity,
the leisure, the easy flow of coin, the freedom, and the pride which are
helpful to the full fruition of any artist. No artist was ever assisted
in his career by the yoke, by servitude, by enforced monotony, by
overwork, by economic inferiority. See Meredith's correspondence
everywhere.

Nor can there be any satisfaction in doing badly that which might be
done well. If an artist writes a fine poem, shows it to his dearest
friend, and burns it--I can respect him. But if an artist writes a fine
poem, and then by sloppiness and snobbishness allows it to be
inefficiently published, and fails to secure his own interests in the
transaction, on the plea that he is an artist and not a merchant, then I
refuse to respect him. A man cannot fulfil, and has no right to fulfil,
one function only in this complex world. Some, indeed many, of the
greatest creative artists have managed to be very good merchants also,
and have not been ashamed of the double _role_. To read the
correspondence and memoirs of certain supreme artists one might be
excused for thinking, indeed, that they were more interested in the
_role_ of merchant than in the other _role_; and yet their work in no
wise suffered. In the distribution of energy between the two _roles_
common sense is naturally needed. But the artist who has enough common
sense--or, otherwise expressed, enough sense of reality--not to disdain
the _role_ of merchant will probably have enough not to exaggerate it.
He may be reassured on one point--namely, that success in the _role_ of
merchant will never impair any self-satisfaction he may feel in the
_role_ of artist. The late discovery of a large public in America
delighted Meredith and had a tonic effect on his whole system. It is
often hinted, even if it is not often said, that great popularity ought
to disturb the conscience of the artist. I do not believe it. If the
conscience of the artist is not disturbed during the actual work itself,
no subsequent phenomenon will or should disturb it. Once the artist is
convinced of his artistic honesty, no public can be too large for his
peace of mind. On the other hand, failure in the _role_ of merchant will
emphatically impair his self-satisfaction in the _role_ of artist and
his courage in the further pursuance of that _role_.

But many artists have admittedly no aptitude for merchantry. Not only is
their sense of the bindingness of a bargain imperfect, but they are apt
in business to behave in a puerile manner, to close an arrangement out
of mere impatience, to be grossly undiplomatic, to be victimised by
their vanity, to believe what they ought not to believe, to discredit
what is patently true, to worry over negligible trifles, and generally
to make a clumsy mess of their affairs. An artist may say: "I cannot
work unless I have a free mind, and I cannot have a free mind if I am to
be bothered all the time by details of business."

Apart from the fact that no artist who pretends also to be a man can in
this world hope for a free mind, and that if he seeks it by neglecting
his debtors he will be deprived of it by his creditors--apart from that,
the artist's demand for a free mind is reasonable. Moreover, it is
always a distressing sight to see a man trying to do what nature has not
fitted him to do, and so doing it ill. Such artists, however--and they
form possibly the majority--can always employ an expert to do their
business for them, to cope on their behalf with the necessary middleman.
Not that I deem the publisher or the theatrical manager to be by nature
less upright than any other class of merchant. But the publisher and the
theatrical manager have been subjected for centuries to a special and
grave temptation. The ordinary merchant deals with other merchants--his
equals in business skill. The publisher and the theatrical manager deal
with what amounts to a race of children, of whom even arch-angels could
not refrain from taking advantage.

When the democratisation of literature seriously set in, it inevitably
grew plain that the publisher and the theatrical manager had very
humanly been giving way to the temptation with which heaven in her
infinite wisdom had pleased to afflict them,--and the Society of Authors
came into being. A natural consequence of the general awakening was the
self-invention of the literary agent. The Society of Authors, against
immense obstacles, has performed wonders in the economic education of
the creative artist, and therefore in the improvement of letters. The
literary agent, against obstacles still more immense, has carried out
the details of the revolution. The outcry--partly sentimental, partly
snobbish, but mainly interested--was at first tremendous against these
meddlers who would destroy the charming personal relations that used to
exist between, for example, the author and the publisher. (The less said
about those charming personal relations the better. Documents exist.)
But the main battle is now over, and everyone concerned is beautifully
aware who holds the field. Though much remains to be done, much has been
done; and today the creative artist who, conscious of inability to
transact his own affairs efficiently, does not obtain efficient advice
and help therein, stands in his own light both as an artist and as a
man, and is a reactionary force. He owes the practice of elementary
common sense to himself, to his work, and to his profession at large.




IV


The same dilettante spirit which refuses to see the connection between
art and money has also a tendency to repudiate the world of men at
large, as being unfit for the habitation of artists. This is a still
more serious error of attitude--especially in a storyteller. No artist
is likely to be entirely admirable who is not a man before he is an
artist. The notion that art is first and the rest of the universe
nowhere is bound to lead to preciosity and futility in art. The artist
who is too sensitive for contacts with the non-artistic world is thereby
too sensitive for his vocation, and fit only to fall into gentle
ecstasies over the work of artists less sensitive than himself.

The classic modern example of the tragedy of the artist who repudiates
the world is Flaubert. At an early age Flaubert convinced himself that
he had no use for the world of men. He demanded to be left in solitude
and tranquillity. The morbid streak in his constitution grew rapidly
under the fostering influences of peace and tranquillity. He was
brilliantly peculiar as a schoolboy. As an old man of twenty-two,
mourning over the vanished brio of youth, he carried morbidity to
perfection. Only when he was travelling (as, for example, in Egypt) do
his letters lose for a time their distemper. His love-letters are often
ignobly inept, and nearly always spoilt by the crass provincialism of
the refined and cultivated hermit. His mistress was a woman difficult to
handle and indeed a Tartar in egotism, but as the recipient of
Flaubert's love-letters she must win universal sympathy.

Full of a grievance against the whole modern planet, Flaubert turned
passionately to ancient times (in which he would have been equally
unhappy had he lived in them), and hoped to resurrect beauty when he
had failed to see it round about him. Whether or not he did resurrect
beauty is a point which the present age is now deciding. His fictions of
modern life undoubtedly suffer from his detestation of the material; but
considering his manner of existence it is marvellous that he should have
been able to accomplish any of them, except _Un Coeur Simple_. The final
one, _Bouvard et Pecuchet_, shows the lack of the sense of reality which
must be the inevitable sequel of divorce from mankind. It is realism
without conviction. No such characters as Bouvard and Pecuchet could
ever have existed outside Flaubert's brain, and the reader's resultant
impression is that the author has ruined a central idea which was well
suited for a grand larkish extravaganza in the hands of a French Swift.
But the spectacle of Flaubert writing in _mots justes_ a grand larkish
extravaganza cannot be conjured up by fancy.

There are many sub-Flauberts rife in London. They are usually more
critical than creative, but their influence upon creators, and
especially the younger creators, is not negligible. Their aim in
preciosity would seem to be to keep themselves unspotted from the world.
They are for ever being surprised and hurt by the crudity and coarseness
of human nature, and for ever bracing themselves to be not as others
are. They would have incurred the anger of Dr. Johnson, and a just
discipline for them would be that they should be cross-examined by the
great bully in presence of a jury of butchers and sentenced accordingly.
The morbid Flaubertian shrinking from reality is to be found to-day even
in relatively robust minds. I was recently at a provincial cinema, and
witnessed on the screen with a friend a wondrously ingenuous drama
entitled "Gold is not All." My friend, who combines the callings of
engineer and general adventurer with that of serving his country, leaned
over to me in the darkness amid the violent applause, and said: "You
know, this kind of thing always makes me ashamed of human nature." I
answered him as Johnsonially as the circumstances would allow. Had he
lived to the age of fifty so blind that it needed a cinema audience to
show him what the general level of human nature really is? Nobody has
any right to be ashamed of human nature. Is one ashamed of one's mother?
Is one ashamed of the cosmic process of evolution? Human nature _is_.
And the more deeply the creative artist, by frank contacts, absorbs that
supreme fact into his brain, the better for his work.

There is a numerous band of persons in London--and the novelist and
dramatist are not infrequently drawn into their circle--who spend so
much time and emotion in practising the rites of the religion of art
that they become incapable of real existence. Each is a Stylites on a
pillar. Their opinion on Leon Bakst, Francis Thompson, Augustus John,
Cyril Scott, Maurice Ravel, Vuillard, James Stephens, E.A. Rickards,
Richard Strauss, Eugen d'Albert, etc., may not be without value, and
their genuine feverish morbid interest in art has its usefulness; but
they know no more about reality than a Pekinese dog on a cushion. They
never approach normal life. They scorn it. They have a horror of it.
They class politics with the differential calculus. They have heard of
Lloyd George, the rise in the price of commodities, and the eternal
enigma, what is a sardine; but only because they must open a newspaper
to look at the advertisements and announcements relating to the arts.
The occasional frequenting of this circle may not be disadvantageous to
the creative artist. But let him keep himself inoculated against its
disease by constant steady plunges into the cold sea of the general
national life. Let him mingle with the public, for God's sake! No
phenomenon on this wretched planet, which after all is ours, is meet for
the artist's shrinking scorn. And the average man, as to whom the
artist's ignorance is often astounding, must for ever constitute the
main part of the material in which he works.

Above all, let not the creative artist suppose that the antidote to the
circle of dilettantism is the circle of social reform. It is not. I
referred in the first chapter to the prevalent illusion that the
republic has just now arrived at a crisis, and that if something is not
immediately done disaster will soon be upon us. This is the illusion to
which the circle of social reforms is naturally prone, and it is an
illusion against which the common sense of the creative artist must
mightily protest. The world is, without doubt, a very bad world; but it
is also a very good world. The function of the artist is certainly
concerned more with what is than with what ought to be. When all
necessary reform has been accomplished our perfected planet will be
stone-cold. Until then the artist's affair is to keep his balance amid
warring points of view, and in the main to record and enjoy what is....
But is not the Minimum Wage Bill urgent? But when the minimum wage is as
trite as the jury-system, the urgency of reform will still be tempting
the artist too far out of his true path. And the artist who yields is
lost.






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