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Martin Eden 95







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Books:

Martin Eden

The Pickwick Papers

The Sea Wolf




clay plastic, then it had developed stubbornness, declining to be shaped in the image of her father or of Mr. Butler. What was great and strong in him, she missed, or, worse yet, misunderstood. This man, whose clay was so plastic that he could live in any number of pigeonholes of human existence, she thought wilful and most obstinate because she could not shape him to live in her pigeonhole, which was the only one she knew. She could not follow the flights of his mind, and when his brain got beyond her, she deemed him erratic. Nobody elses brain ever got beyond her. She could always follow her father and mother, her brothers and Olney; wherefore, when she could not follow Martin, she believed the fault lay with him. It was the old tragedy of insularity trying to serve as mentor to the universal. "You worship at the shrine of the established," he told her once, in a discussion they had over Praps and Vanderwater. "I grant that as authorities to quote they are most excellent--the two foremost literary critics in the United States. Every school teacher in the land looks up to Vanderwater as the Dean of American criticism. Yet I read his stuff, and it seems to me the perfection of the felicitous expression of the inane. Why, he is no more than a ponderous bromide, thanks to Gelett Burgess. And Praps is no better. His Hemlock Mosses, for instance is beautifully written. Not a comma is out of place; and the tone--ah!--is lofty, so lofty. He is the best-paid critic in the United States. Though, Heaven forbid! hes not a critic at all. They do criticism better in England. "But the point is, they sound the popular note, and they sound it so beautifully and morally and contentedly. Their reviews remind me of a British Sunday. They are the popular mouthpieces. They back up your professors of English, and your professors of English back them up. And there isnt an original idea in any of their skulls. They know only the established,--in fact, they are the established. They are weak minded, and the established impresses itself upon them as easily as the name of the brewery is impressed on a beer bottle. And their function is to catch all the young fellows attending the university, to drive out of their minds any glimmering originality that may chance to be there, and to put upon them the stamp of the established." "I think I am nearer the truth," she replied, "when I stand by the established, than you are, raging around like an iconoclastic South Sea Islander." "It was the missionary who did the image breaking," he laughed. "And unfortunately, all the missionaries are off among the heathen, so there are none left at home to break those old images, Mr. Vanderwater and Mr. Praps." "And the college professors, as well," she added. He shook his head emphatically. "No; the science professors should live. Theyre really great. But it would be a good deed to break the heads of nine-tenths of the English professors--little, microscopic-minded parrots!" Which was rather severe on the professors, but which to Ruth was blasphemy. She could not help but measure the professors, neat, scholarly, in fitting clothes, speaking in well-modulated voices, breathing of culture and refinement, with this almost indescribable young fellow whom somehow she loved, whose clothes never would fit him, whose heavy muscles told of damning toil, who grew excited when he talked, substituting abuse for calm statement and passionate utterance for cool self-possession. They at least earned good salaries and were--yes, she compelled herself to face it--were gentlemen; while he could not earn a penny, and he was not as they. She did not weigh Martins words nor judge his argument by them. Her conclusion that his argument was wrong was reached--unconsciously, it is true--by a comparison of externals. They, the professors, were right in their literary judgments because they were successes. Martins literary judgments were wrong because he could not sell his wares. To use his own phrase, they made good, and he did not make good. And besides, it did not seem reasonable that he should be right--he who had stood, so short a time before, in that same living room, blushing and awkward, acknowledging his introduction, looking fearfully about him at the bric-a- brac his swinging shoulders threatened to break, asking how

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