Thursday, February 11, 2010

Essay: "Cacoethes Scribendi." Oliver Wendell Holmes.

(Father of the long-time Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.)

One-minute review: Holmes wrote a series of books in which people sat around the breakfast table and talked. This particular essay was published as Over the Teacups. It involves a discussion of why everybody wants to be a poet. The answer? To be famous. It finishes with a poem that suggests everyone wants to write and if that great well of ink dried up, everyone would be clamoring for more ink so that they could write, presumably, poetry.


“…which pour out of the press, not weekly, but daily, and at such a rate of increase that it seems as if before long every hour would bring a book, or at least an article which is to grow into a book by and by….”

“I have sometimes thought I might consider it worth while to set up a school for instruction in the art. Poetry Taught in Twelve Lessons. Congenital idiocy is no disqualification. Anybody can write ‘poetry.’ ”

“It is a most unenviable distinction to have published a thin volume of verse which nobody wanted, nobody buys, nobody reads, nobody cares for except the author, who cries over its pathos, poor fellow, and revels in its beauties, which he has all to himself.”

“A fellow writes in verse when he has nothing to say, and feels too dull and silly to say it in prose.”

“What is the meaning of this rush into rhyming of such a multitude of people, of all ages, from the infant phenomenon to the oldest inhabitants?”

Comment: In the late 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century, a similar outpouring of publications has been produced by self-publishing. I am one of those self-published authors, whose book “nobody wanted, nobody buys, nobody reads, nobody cares for except the author….” RayS.

American Essays. Ed. Charles B. Shaw. A Pelican Mentor Book. New York: The New American Library. 1948.

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