Where A Blogger Comes From
Trouble and heartache liberated my feelings, and even, as I have remarked below, set them into an ungovernable gale, from which I have had to seek refuge in some very heavy-duty medication and, unforseeably, in writing.
George W. Bush focused those feelings into a burning, righteous rage. I will be eternally grateful to him for doing so. But blogging and blogs have been the most liberating of all and I will be eternally even more grateful to Google and Blogger. For I need to write, not to fiddle with being published, however much I like to be read. And I also want to write and not play with computers or codes. Playing with HTML, frankly, is a godawful bore.
So. Writing. Writing comes from reading. And if, as I suspect, many readers find the form that my writing takes a little unfamiliar or archaic sounding, they are quite correct. What I write are familiar essays, because familiar essays have been the deepest and most durable part of my reading, and familiar essays (as well as other like-shaped prose), in particular, from that great and glorious early 20th century flowering of British letters.
From the death of Queen Victoria in 1902 to the death of the men who were young then, in the 1950's and 1960's, the thoughtful words of the men of John Bull's, Owen Glendower's, Robert Bruce's, and St. Patrick's islands on life, literature, and politics have been my reader's vice.
And, in particular, I was always attracted to the ones who are witty, pretty, and sharp--writing for the word's, and the common tongue's, sake, and not just to make a point or tell a tale. Self-conscious writers all, as am I, whose wisdom, if it be present, seems a byproduct of their wit rather than the end product of it. And that wisdom appears as often in what they don't write as in what they do.
They had so much time! The writing itself was sometimes done in haste, on deadline, and for Grub Street pay, but the style is one of infinite time to think, and infinite leisure to write, which is summed up in three words: man of letters. They were all men of letters. Here are their names: Saki, G. K. Chesterton, Hillaire Belloc, George Bernard Shaw, P.G. Wodehouse, W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, George Orwell, W. H. Auden. They are my masters and betters. They are my roots. When you read me, you hear their echoes, just as, when you read Ray Bradbury, say, you hear the echos of Hemmingway and, perhaps, Scott Fitzgerald, great writers whom I read, but were not my masters.
Thus the style of this blog. The substance, however, comes from elsewhere. There is a wonderful window in the history of this country when freedom and possibility had a taste so palpable that it was in the air, the water, and the sunlight itself. It lasted from about the end of the War of 1812 until the Mexican War, or perhaps a year or two after.
It was not a perfect time for all here: there was Slavery, there was the Trail of Tears. But the men who came after looked upon it with nostalgia and the great nostalgic works from it are Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The men who lived it, Irving, Whitman, Melville, Dickinson, Poe, Emerson, Whittier, Thoreau, and Lincoln, were the first flowering of a distinctive American letters which was born in the prose and the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe, and died at or after Gettysburg and Appomatox.
But the snake was in the Garden and the worm was in the Apple. From the Mexican War forward, our American story is of those of us who were cast forth from that promised Eden of American possibility, and alienated from their American birthright: Thoreau, Henry James, Sinclair Lewis, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Alfred Steiglitz, Duke Ellington, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Henry Miller, Billie Holiday, Nathaniel West, Jack Kerouac, Thomas Pynchon. They are not my masters, but they are my brothers and sisters in arms.
They were alienated by the brood of "the business of America is business" and by the purveyors of the twin notions that the soul of America needs a good thumping with a Bible and the heart of America needs to be scoured for heresy of opposing social, economic, and political injustice at home or abroad. They are the men and women who left the real American mark on the world and not the J.P. Morgans, the Calvin Coolidges, the Father Coughlins, the Joe McCarthys, George Wallaces, Pat Buchannans, Rush and David Limbaughs, and Ann Coulters to whom they were opposed.
Both sets of Americans are still with us, the one as essentially anonymous as ever, whatever their current fame, and as secure in the conceit that they ARE America, and everybody else is just a crackpot or an interloper. And the other, momentarily defeated, but not routed, and fuller of fight than they have been for many a decade. I stand with the defeated against the momentarily victorious, calm in the knowledge that we will not be dislodged and that our prose, our music, and our art will, collectively if not individually, outlast them all.