writers and their publics

“I had learned than historick romance must be true, apparently if not actually, accidentally if not essentially, implicitly if not explicitly. I had learned that the Form of it must be appropriate to the Matter in order to give it individual existence; and that with these must be included Potentiality and Actuality, all in a most correct Aristotelian formula. But above all I had learned something about the PUBLICK. I had learned that the PUBLICK has not much relish for the normal, but for the abnormal: asks of writers ‘some new thing,’ and leaves retailers of ‘chestnuts’ in the gutter. I had learned that the PUBLICK is like a plucky boy, who delights, who prefers (as I myself prefer and delight), to be taken out of his depth. Why? Because neither the PUBLICK, nor the plucky boy, (nor I who write), are the boors who neither can read nor swim named in the proverb of Diogenianos of Heraklea.* I had learned that the PUBLICK, very far from being the blithering simpleton, the blitomammas, designated by the Sage of Ecclefechan, or the shallow ovine smatterer insolently designated by that sententious Israelite, on the contrary is strenuous, is ardent, is strong, to discriminate between pap and pie; prefers the pie; and eagerly pounces on the task (for task it is, – and Task, when all is said and done, the PUBLICK loves) of picking out the plums. (Indulge my flippancy, o sober painter.) Otherwise, the PUBLICK never would have exerted itself to master Sir Walter Scott, Dr. Charles Reade, Mark Twain, and Henryk Sienkiewicz; or (to state the thesis not in my terms but in yours) otherwise the PUBLICK would prefer meek Academicks, and would never have taken pains to understand, to make a fashion of, Whistler, Burne-Jones, Byam Shaw, Abbey, and Anning Bell. Mediocrity, the generous PUBLICK tolerates. Individuality, distinction, it admires and cultivates. The custom of the English-speaking Race (said a certain Roman once to me), is to attempt the most inopportune time, with the most unsuitable equipment: but invariably it compels success, and covers itself with glory. Oh believe me, dear Kretan, the PUBLICK is no fool.

* ‘Μητε Νειν, μητε γραμματα· επι των αμαθων.’”

(Fr. Rolfe, Don Renato: an ideal content, pp. 24–25.)

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