Letter 057, pg. 2
over them together, and he said: “Why, it’s wonderful!”
Well? You wanted to know why it has not been published? I think I know it—and it’s not a cheerful reason. It has not been published—not because of faults, but because of its chief virtue. It reads like the conversation of a very intelligent man. You feel a clear, bright, cheerful mind behind every sentence. There is no mush, no portentous platitudes, no vague, loud generalities of the kind that sound deep and mean just exactly nothing. The writing has such remarkable economy—nothing said but what has to be said and not an adjective over. Also, the writing is simple—with the most deadly simplicity of all: the simplicity of intelligence. I say “deadly” because that is just what intelligence represents to the contemptible second-raters who are mainly in charge of our literary life at present.
I don’t think that most editors are conscious of it or deliberately vicious about it. But I do think that their instinct—they’d call it their “Taste”—objects automatically to any manifestation of pure intellect, or brains. It is not even a question of subject matter. The subject matter of “Life’s Too Short” is simple and human enough; it can be understood by and would appeal to the most un-intellectual, average reader; there is nothing “difficult” or “high-brow” about it. The intellectual quality is in the writing. It appeals to the emotions through the mind. The effect it creates in the reader is this: what a wise, charming man there is looking at us from between the lines. But the process of reading between the lines is an intellectual enjoyment. It is subtle. It requires intelligence to create it and to appreciate it. Not necessarily an abstract, ponderous, “philosophical” intelligence. But a simple, easy, cheerful mental process accessible to any mind, provided that mind wishes to be exercised. There is the secret. The minds of our present-day “intellectuals” do not wish to function. They dread it. And they resent it above all else. What they want is emotion, but not intelligent emotion. Just plain, cheap, sodden emotion that requires no thinking, that would vanish the instant thought was applied to it.
I can best make this clear by an illustration. I have read, appalled, the kind of autobiographies that are being published today. Autobiographies full of nothing at all. Great big life-stories of second-rate newspaper-men who use world events as a background for their nasty little personalities. Like this: “And when I saw the fall of Vienna, it reminded me of a day seven years earlier when I met Jimmy Glutz in a dive in Singapore, and over a glass of absinthe I said: ‘Jimmy, what is the meaning of life?’ and Jimmy answered: ‘Hell, who knows, you old bastard?’”[*] You see