Tuesday, September 24, 2013

`Any Man with a Large Enough Mind'

My taste in authors, I find, runs to those who write little and those who seem unable to stop writing. In the first group we find Edgar Bowers and J.V. Cunningham, poets of the Stanford School variously associated and disassociated with Yvor Winters, who also wrote a small body of poetry but much criticism, both excellent. Bowers and Cunningham were painstaking craftsmen, neither ever published a mediocre poem and both wrote several poems that are perfect. Other writers in the same unprolific-but-highly-accomplished corner are J.F. Powers and John Williams (Stoner). The connection between low productivity and artistic excellence is intriguing but remains unproven. 

Among the high-volume writers I favor are Johnson, Chekhov, Henry James, P.G. Wodehouse – and Shakespeare. Inclusion of the last may surprise, but he had a hand in at least thirty-eight plays, 154 sonnets and two long narrative poems, and died at age fifty-two. He was a working writer, a professional who produced on demand, never a dilettante. In the same league of high-fecundity we find a writer who proudly described himself as a journalist – G.K. Chesterton. There are stories of him writing two articles or reviews simultaneously. A bibliography of his work will probably always remain incomplete, though we know he produced 1,535 essays for the Illustrated London News between 1905 and 1936. In “What is Right With the World” he writes: 

“Any man with a large mind ought to be able to write about anything. Any really free man ought to be able to write to order. Some of the greatest books in the world -- Pickwick, for instance -- were written to fulfil a scheme partly sketched out by a publisher.”

Inspiration without industriousness is self-indulgent and sterile. The connection between high productivity and artistic excellence is intriguing but remains unproven.

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