“Between courses a venerable oriental silently proffered his car. It described him a `Proser.’ One hid one’s smiles behind one’s chopsticks. From which dangled something unidentifiable but delicious.
“Evidently the sort of person who would prose away, weighing the pros and cons! Who for certain boring reasons, probably prudential, would rather not be deemed a poet, sometimes labeled Rhymester or Versifier.
“Later, having recourse to one’s Oxford Dictionary, one actually discovered the word there, much to one’s disbelief. `A writer of prose.’ Going back hundreds of years. One simply hadn’t recognized it, among all those exotic dishes.”
Please, Enright is not guilty of “orientalism.” He taught for years in Japan, Thailand and Singapore, and knew their people more intimately than most Westerners. He’s right, of course, about the OED, which defines proser as “a writer of prose,” though my spell-check software doesn’t recognize it. (Nor does it recognize prosiast, which is almost as funny as prosit, and promptly changed it to prosiest). The first citation for proser, dated “?1614,” is from a poem, and not just any poem but one central to the Western poetic tradition – Chapman’s Homer (Odyssey): “This Prozer Dionysius, and the rest of these graue, and reputatiuely learned.” Subsequent citations are also of interest:
The Battaile of Agincourt (1627) by Michael Drayton: “And surely Nashe, though he a Proser were / A branch of Lawrell yet deserues to beare.”
The Feast of Poets (1815) by Leigh Hunt: “Such prosers as Johnson, and rhymers as Dryden.”
Leaves from My Journal in Italy and Elsewhere (1854) by James Russell Lowell: “Poets and prosers have alike compared her [sc. Italy] to a beautiful woman.”