24 May 2012

Literature as a Profession

Jerome K. Jerome in My First Book (London: Chatto & Windus, 1894), p. 236:
If a man think to use literature merely as a means to fame and fortune, then he will find it an extremely unsatisfactory profession, and he would have done better to take up politics or company promoting. If he trouble himself about his status and position therein, loving the uppermost tables at feasts, and the chief seats in public places, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Master, Master, then he will find it a profession fuller than most professions of petty jealousy, of little spite, of foolish hating and foolish log-rolling, of feminine narrowness and childish querulousness. If he think too much of his prices per thousand words, he will find it a degrading profession; as the solicitor, thinking only of his bills-of-cost, will find the law degrading; as the doctor, working only for two-guinea fees, will find medicine degrading; as the priest, with his eyes ever fixed on the bishop's mitre, will find Christianity degrading. 
But if he love his work for the work's sake, if he remain child enough to be fascinated with his own fancies, to laugh at his own jests, to grieve at his own pathos, to weep at his own tragedy -- then, as, smoking his pipe, he watches the shadows of his brain coming and going before his half-closed eyes, listens to their voices in the air about him, he will thank God for making him a literary man. To such a one, it seems to me, literature must prove ennobling. Of all professions it is the one compelling a man to use whatever brain he has to its fullest and widest. With one or two other callings, it invites him -- nay, compels him -- to turn from the clamour of the passing day to speak for a while with the voices that are eternal.