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- How to Fail in Literature - 3/5 -

So much for style, of which it may generally be said that you cannot be too obscure, unnatural, involved, vulgar, slipshod, and metaphorical. See to it that your metaphors are mixed, though, perhaps, this attention is hardly needed. The free use of parentheses, in which a reader gets lost, and of unintelligible allusions, and of references to unread authors--the Kalevala and Lycophron, and the Scholiast on Apollonius Rhodius, is invaluable to this end. So much for manner, and now for matter.

The young author generally writes because he wants to write, either for money, from vanity, or in mere weariness of empty hours and anxiety to astonish his relations. This is well, he who would fail cannot begin better than by having nothing to say. The less you observe, the less you reflect, the less you put yourself in the paths of adventure and experience, the less you will have to say, and the more impossible will it be to read your work. Never notice people's manner, conduct, nor even dress, in real life. Walk through the world with your eyes and ears closed, and embody the negative results in a story or a poem. As to Poetry, with a fine instinct we generally begin by writing verse, because verse is the last thing that the public want to read. The young writer has usually read a great deal of verse, however, and most of it bad. His favourite authors are the bright lyrists who sing of broken hearts, wasted lives, early deaths, disappointment, gloom. Without having even had an unlucky flirtation, or without knowing what it is to lose a favourite cat, the early author pours forth laments, just like the laments he has been reading. He has too a favourite manner, the old consumptive manner, about the hectic flush, the fatal rose on the pallid cheek, about the ruined roof tree, the empty chair, the rest in the village churchyard. This is now a little rococo and forlorn, but failure may be assured by travelling in this direction. If you are ambitious to disgust an editor at once, begin your poem with "Only." In fact you may as well head the lyric "Only." {4}


Only a spark of an ember, Only a leaf on the tree, Only the days we remember, Only the days without thee. Only the flower that thou worest, Only the book that we read, Only that night in the forest, Only a dream of the dead, Only the troth that was broken, Only the heart that is lonely, Only the sigh and the token That sob in the saying of Only!

In literature this is a certain way of failing, but I believe a person might make a livelihood by writing verses like these--for music. Another good way is to be very economical in your rhymes, only two to the four lines, and regretfully vague. Thus:


In the slumber of the winter, In the secret of the snow, What is the voice that is crying Out of the long ago?

When the accents of the children Are silent on the stairs, When the poor forgets his troubles, And the rich forgets his cares.

What is the silent whisper That echoes in the room, When the days are full of darkness, And the night is hushed in gloom?

'Tis the voice of the departed, Who will never come again, Who has left the weary tumult, And the struggle and the pain. {5}

And my heart makes heavy answer, To the voice that comes no more, To the whisper that is welling From the far off happy shore.

If you are not satisfied with these simple ways of not succeeding, please try the Grosvenor Gallery style. Here the great point is to make the rhyme arrive at the end of a very long word, you should also be free with your alliterations.


When the sombre night is dumb, Hushed the loud chrysanthemum, Sister, sleep! Sleep, the lissom lily saith, Sleep, the poplar whispereth, Soft and deep!

Filmy floats the wild woodbine, Jonquil, jacinth, jessamine, Float and flow. Sleeps the water wild and wan, As in far off Toltecan Mexico.

See, upon the sun-dial, Waves the midnight's misty pall, Waves and wakes. As, in tropic Timbuctoo, Water beasts go plashing through Lilied lakes!

Alliteration is a splendid source of failure in this sort of poetry, and adjectives like lissom, filmy, weary, weird, strange, make, or ought to make, the rejection of your manuscript a certainty. The poem should, as a rule, seem to be addressed to an unknown person, and should express regret and despair for circumstances in the past with which the reader is totally unacquainted. Thus:


We met at length, as Souls that sit At funeral feast, and taste of it, And empty were the words we said, As fits the converse of the dead, For it is long ago, my dear, Since we two met in living cheer, Yea, we have long been ghosts, you know, And alien ways we twain must go, Nor shall we meet in Shadow Land, Till Time's glass, empty of its sand, Is filled up of Eternity. Farewell--enough for once to die - And far too much it is to dream, And taste not the Lethaean stream, But bear the pain of loves unwed Even here, even here, among the dead!

That is a cheerful intelligible kind of melody, which is often practised with satisfactory results. Every form of imitation (imitating of course only the faults of a favourite writer) is to be recommended.

Imitation does a double service, it secures the failure of the imitator and also aids that of the unlucky author who is imitated. As soon as a new thing appears in literature, many people hurry off to attempt something of the same sort. It may be a particular trait and accent in poetry, and the public, weary of the mimicries, begin to dislike the original.

"Most can grow the flowers now, For all have got the seed; And once again the people Call it but a weed."

In fiction, if somebody brings in a curious kind of murder, or a study of religious problems, or a treasure hunt, or what you will, others imitate till the world is weary of murders, or theological flirtations, or the search for buried specie, and the original authors themselves will fail, unless they fish out something new, to be vulgarised afresh. Therefore, imitation is distinctly to be urged on the young author.

As a rule, his method is this, he reads very little, but all that he reads is BAD. The feeblest articles in the weakliest magazines, the very mildest and most conventional novels appear to be the only studies of the majority. Apparently the would-be contributor says to himself, or herself, "well, _I_ can do something almost on the level of this or that maudlin and invertebrate novel." Then he deliberately sits down to rival the most tame, dull, and illiterate compositions that get into print. In this way bad authors become the literary parents of worse authors. Nobody but a reader of MSS. knows what myriads of fiction are written without one single new situation, original character, or fresh thought. The most out-worn ideas: sudden loss of fortune; struggles; faithlessness of First Lover; noble conduct of Second Lover: frivolity of younger sister; excellence of mother: naughtiness of one son, virtue of another, these are habitually served up again and again. On the sprained ankles, the mad bulls, the fires, and other simple devices for doing without an introduction between hero and heroine I need not dwell. The very youngest of us is acquainted with these expedients, which, by this time of day, will spell failure.

The common novels of Governess life, the daughters and granddaughters of Jane Eyre, still run riot among the rejected manuscripts. The lively large family, all very untidy and humorous, all wearing each other's boots and gloves, and making their dresses out of bedroom curtains and marrying rich men, still rushes down the easy descent to failure. The sceptical curate is at large, and is disbelieving in everything except the virtues of the young woman who "has a history." Mr. Swinburne hopes that one day the last unbelieving clergyman will disappear in the embrace of the last immaculate Magdalen, as the Princess and the Geni burn each other to nothingness, in the Arabian Nights. On that happy day there will be one less of the roads

How to Fail in Literature - 3/5

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