My Dear Sir, I agree with
every word you say. You have my entire sympathy.
The world is indeed hard, hard to the sad particularly
hard to the unsuccessful. A sure five hundred
a year covers a multitude of sorrows. It is ever
an ill wind for the shorn lamb. If it be true
that nothing succeeds like success, it is no less
sadly true that nothing fails like failure. And
when one thinks of it, it is only natural, for every
failure is an obstruction in the stream of life.
Metaphorical writers are fond of saying that the successful
ride to success on the back of the failures.
It is true that many rise on stepping-stones of their
dead relations but that is because their
relations have been financial successes. In truth,
instead of the failure making the fortune of the successful,
it is just the reverse. A very successful man
would be the more successful were it not for the failures on
whom he has either to spend his money to support,
or his time to advise. The strong are said to
be impatient towards the weak and is it
to be wondered at, in a world where even the strongest
need all their strength, in a sea where the best swimmer
needs all his wind and muscle and skill to keep afloat?
If success is sometimes ‘unfeeling’ towards
failure, failure is often unfair to success. Of
course, ’it is He that hath made us and not
we ourselves,’ but that is a text that cuts both
ways; and when all is said and done, the failure detracts
from the force in the universe; he is the clog on
the wheel of fortune. To say that the successful
man benefits by the failure of others is as true as
it would be to say that the ratepayer benefits by
the poor-rates. You use the word ‘charlatan’
somewhat profusely of several successful writers, and
no doubt you are right. But you must remember
that it is a favourite charge against the gifted and
the fortunate. Because we have failed by fair
means, we are sure the other fellows have succeeded
by foul. And, moreover, one is apt to forget
how much talent is needed to be a charlatan.
Never look down upon a charlatan. Courage, skill,
personal force or charm, great knowledge of human
nature, dramatic instinct, and industry few
charlatans succeed (and no one is called a charlatan
till he does succeed, be his success as low
or high as you please) without possessing a majority
of these qualities; how many of which it
would be interesting to know do you possess?
Indeed, it would seem to need more
gifts to be a rogue than an honest man, and there
is a sense in which every great man may be described
as a charlatan plus greatness; greatness
being an almost indefinable quality, a quality, at
any rate, on which there is a bewildering diversity
You seem a little cross with publishers
and editors. They have not proved the distinguished,
brilliant, and sympathetic beings you imagined them
in your boyish dreams. No doubt, publishers and
editors enter hardly into the kingdom of heaven.
But then, you see, they don’t care so much about
that; they are much more interested in the next election
at certain fashionable clubs. It is really a
little hard on them that they should suffer from the
ignorant misconception of the literary amateur.
It is only those who have had no dealings with them
who would be unfair enough to expect publishers or
editors to be literary men. They are business
men business men par excellence and
a good thing, too, for their papers and their authors.
You lament their mercenary view of life; but, judging
by your letter, even you are not disposed to regard
money as the root of all evil.
You cannot understand why you have
failed where others have succeeded. You have
far more Greek than Keats, more history than Scott,
and you know nineteen languages ten of
them to speak. With so many accomplishments,
it must indeed be hard to fail though you
do not seem to have found it difficult. You have
travelled too have been twice round the
world, and have a thorough knowledge of the worst hotels.
Certainly, it is singular. Nevertheless, I must
confess that the dullest men I have ever met have
been professors of history; the worst poets have not
only known Greek, but French as well; and, generally
speaking the most tiresome of my acquaintances have
more degrees than I have Latin to name them in.
Alas! it is not experience, or travel, or language,
but the use we make of them, that makes literary success,
which, one may add, is particularly dependent perhaps
not unnaturally on the use we make of language.
A book may be a book, although there is neither Latin
nor Greek, nor travel, nor experience in
fact ‘nothing’ in it; and though, like
myself, you may pay an Oxford professor a thousand
a year to correct your proofs, you may still miss
To these intellectual and general
equipments you add goodness of heart, sincerity of
conviction, and martyrdom for your opinions; you are,
it would seem, like many others of us, the best fellow
and greatest man of your acquaintance. Permit
me to remind you that we are not talking of goodness
of heart, of strength or beauty of character, but of
success, which is a thing apart, a fine art in itself.
You confess that you are somewhat
unpractical: you expect others hard-worked
journalists who never met you to tell you
what to read, how to form your style, and how ‘to
get into the magazines.’ You are, you say,
with something of pride, but a poor business man.
That is a pity, for nearly every successful literary
man of the day, and particularly the novelists, are
excellent business men. Indeed, the history of
literature all round has proved that the men who have
been masters of words have also been masters of things masters
of the facts of life for which those words stand.
Many writers have mismanaged their affairs from idleness
and indifference, but few from incapacity. Leigh
Hunt boasted that he could never master the multiplication-table.
Perhaps that accounts for his comparative failure as
a writer. Incompetence in one art is far from
being a guarantee of competency in another, and a
man is all the more likely to make a name if he is
able to make a living though, judging from
Coleridge, it seems a good plan to let another hard-worked
man support one’s wife and children. On
the other hand, though business faculty is a great
deal, it is not everything: for a man may be
as punctual and methodical as Southey, and yet miss
the prize of his high calling, or as generally ‘impossible’
as Blake, and yet win his place among the immortals.
In fact, after all, success in literature
has something to do with writing. In temporary
success, industry and business faculty, and an unworked
field be it Scotland, Ireland, or the Isle
of Man (any place but plain England!) are
the chief factors. For that more lasting success
which we call fame other qualities are needed, such
qualities as imagination, fancy, and magic and force
in the use of words. Can you honestly say, O
beloved, though tiresome, correspondent, that these
great gifts are yours? Judging from your letter but
Heaven forbid that I should be unkind! For, need
I say I love you with a fellow-feeling? Do you
think that you are the only unappreciated genius on
the planet not to speak of all the other
unappreciated geniuses on all the other planets?
Thank goodness, the postal arrangements with the latter
are as yet defective! Others there are with hearts
as warm, minds as profound, and style at least as
attractive, who languish in unmerited neglect Miltons
inglorious indeed, though far from mute.
Believe me, you are not alone.
In fact, there are so many like you that it would
be quite easy for you to find society without worrying
me. And, for all of us, there is the consolation
that, though we fail as writers, we may still succeed
as citizens, as husbands and fathers and friends.
As Whitman would say because you are not
Editor of The Times, do you give in that you
are less than a man? There are poets that have
never entered into the Bodley Head, and great prose-writers
who have never sat in an editorial chair. Be
satisfied with your heavenly crowns, O you whining
unsuccessful, and leave to your inferiors the earthly