him?” “Worms and piss and grey vomit,” offered Jaime.
"Tell me, little blind creature, whose song is so charming, where did you learn to sing?"
The little creature turned its head a trifle to one side as though listening for the fall of nuts.
"Ah, indeed!" said the traveller: "You, whose voice is so clear, is this all you get to eat?"
The little blind creature smiled . . . .
It is a twilight forest in which we writers of fiction wander, and once in a way, though all this has been said before, we may as well remind ourselves and others why the light is so dim; why there is so much bad and false fiction; why the demand for it is so great. Living in a world where demand creates supply, we writers of fiction furnish the exception to this rule. For, consider how, as a class, we come into existence. Unlike the followers of any other occupation, nothing whatever compels any one of us to serve an apprenticeship. We go to no school, have to pass no examination, attain no standard, receive no diploma. We need not study that which should be studied; we are at liberty to flood our minds with all that should not be studied. Like mushrooms, in a single sight we spring up--a pen in our hands, very little in our brains, and who-knows-what in our hearts!
Few of us sit down in cold blood to write our first stories; we have something in us that we feel we must express. This is the beginning of the vicious circle. Our first books often have some thing in them. We are sincere in trying to express that something. It is true we cannot express it, not having learnt how, but its ghost haunts the pages the ghost of real experience and real life--just enough to attract the untrained intelligence, just enough to make a generous Press remark: "This shows promise." We have tasted blood, we pant for more. Those of us who had a carking occupation hasten to throw it aside, those who had no occupation have now found one; some few of us keep both the old occupation and the new. Whichever of these courses we pursue, the hurry with which we pursue it undoes us. For, often we have only that one book in us, which we did not know how to write, and having expressed that which we have felt, we are driven in our second, our third, our fourth, to warm up variations, like those dressed remains of last night's dinner which are served for lunch; or to spin from our usually commonplace imaginations thin extravagances which those who do not try to think for themselves are ever ready to accept as full of inspiration and vitality. Anything for a book, we say--anything for a book!
>From time immemorial we have acted in this immoral manner, till we have accustomed the Press and Public to expect it. From time immemorial we have allowed ourselves to be driven by those powerful drivers, Bread, and Praise, and cared little for the quality of either. Sensibly, or insensibly, we tune our songs to earn the nuts of our twilight forest. We tune them, not to the key of: "Is it good?" but to the key of: "Will it pay?" and at each tuning the nuts fall fast! It is all so natural. How can we help it, seeing that we are undisciplined and standardless, seeing that we started without the backbone that schooling gives? Here and there among us is a genius, here and there a man of exceptional stability who trains himself in spite of all the forces working for his destruction. But those who do not publish until they can express, and do not express until they have something worth expressing, are so rare that they can be counted on the fingers of three or perhaps four hands; mercifully, we all--or nearly all believe ourselves of that company.
It is the fashion to say that the public will have what it wants. Certainly the Public will have what it wants if what it wants is given to the Public. If what it now wants were suddenly withdrawn, the Public, the big Public, would by an obvious natural law take the lowest of what remained; if that again were withdrawn, it would take the next lowest, until by degrees it took a relatively good article. The Public, the big Public, is a mechanical and helpless consumer at the mercy of what is supplied to it, and this must ever be so. The Public then is not to blame for the supply of bad, false fiction. The Press is not to blame, for the Press, like the Public, must take what is set before it; their Critics, for the most part, like ourselves have been to no school, passed no test of fitness, received no certificate; they cannot lead us, it is we who lead them, for without the Critics we could live but without us the Critics would die. We cannot, therefore, blame the Press. Nor is the Publisher to blame; for the Publisher will publish what is set before him. It is true that if he published no books on commission he would deserve the praise of the State, but it is quite unreasonable for us to expect him to deserve the praise of the State, since it is we who supply him with these books and incite him to publish them. We cannot, therefore, lay the blame on the Publisher.