19 July 2013

The Jolliest of the Irregulars

Arthur Ransome, Bohemia in London (London: Stephen Swift, 1912), pp. 205-206:
The men who really care for their art, who wish above all things to do the best that is in them, do not take the way of the world and the regular salaries of the newspaper offices. They stay outside, reading, writing, painting for themselves, and snatching such golden crumbs as fall within their reach from the tables of publishers, editors, and picture-buyers. They make a living, as it were, by accident. It is a hard life and a risky one; it is deliciously exciting at first, to leap from crag to crag, wherever a slight handhold will preserve you from the abyss, but the time soon comes when you are tired, and wonder, with dulled heart and clouded brain, is it worth while or no? Those who are strong enough to continue are given their own souls to carry in their hands, and those who admit defeat, surrender them, and, knowing in their hearts that they have sold themselves, hide their sorrow in a louder clamour after an easier quest.
The jolliest of the irregulars, in spite of the anxiety of their life, are those who carry on a guerrilla warfare for fame and a long struggle for improvement, never having been caught or maimed by the newspaper routine, or by the drudgery of commercial art work. (For artists as well as writers have an easy way to a livelihood, which they also must have strength to resist.) Some men live as free lances by selling their articles to such papers as are willing to admit their transcendent worth, and ready to pay some small nominal rate, a guinea a thousand words perhaps, for the privilege of printing them. Many live by reviewing, getting half a dozen books a week from different papers, reading or skimming them, and writing as long a paragraph as the editor will allow on each volume. The artists coax dealers into buying small pictures at a cheap rate, satisfying their pride by contemplation of the vastly larger price at which their purchasers seem to value them as soon as they appear in the glamour of the window. Others again, artists and writers, too — these, perhaps, the most sincere and admirable of the lot — refuse any degradation of their art, and live hand to mouth by any sort of work that offers. There was one man who wrote poems in the intervals of stage carpentry, and another who made dolls while compiling a history of philosophy. Some, indeed, seem able to live on nothing at all, and these are more cheerful than the rest whose stomachs are less accommodating.
A related post: It Was Bliss