a spring febricitation
1 May 2011, around 12.16.
Every human being is endowed with a limited and infinitely precious stock of attention-power; and life today is such that – unless the individual is singularly obstinate and cunning – the native and tender innocence of mind, the artist’s birthright, is dissipated or conventionalized by endless, incessant, competitive demands. By newspapers, by electric lights, by telephone, by radio, by moving pictures, by airplane and motor car and church and school and State, by a thousand appeals, admonitions, and interruptions, the mind is assailed and distracted. When the time comes to throw the whole power of one’s will into some superb task, too often we find our faculties grown brittle of callous by repeated overstimulus. We hear a good deal about the agricultural problem of soil erosion; hillsides denuded of fertile topsoil by the action of streams, or great regions of Middle Western richness scoured off by dust storms. Surely not less serious is the matter of mind erosion: the dust storms of daily excitement and of continual triviality can easily blow away the sensitive topsoil of the spirit. The result is a general barren and shallow nervous credulity. Think how many works of genius have been hysterically acclaimed in the past fifteen years and almost as quickly forgotten …
(‘Mind Erosion’ in Streamlines,1 p. 48f.)
- This is one of those collection of essays that has not particularly aged well, in that the topics chosen and interests expressed are not timeless, but because of that limitation it brings forth in the reader a soothing sense of a different era. James Branch Cabell’s effusions have a similar effect. The author is urbane and clever (perhaps at times, this cleverness rather detracts from the force of his ramblings) and tends his little patch of the critical garden for the edification of his contemporaries rather than posterity. His audience was select, and the essays wilt a bit in the light of his excruciating exclusivity. In an essay on Edith Wharton’s A Backward Glance, he says of Mme. Swetchine that ‘she is one of those felicitously unfamous writers who have been divinely shielded from being read by the wrong people’ and he could perhaps be describing the future of his own works. Whether they are as perfectly protected from the loathsome eyes of ‘the wrong people’ is questionable, but that could just be because I no longer assume that I belong to the narrow elect for whom he writes. At present, I find myself rather more curious about ‘the wrong people’ than about Mr. Morley’s book-lined study and armchair living. [↩]