Literary Life – Comprehension

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Wren and Martin: Comprehension Exercise 147


Unquestionably a literary life is for the most part an unhappy life; because, if you have genius, you must suffer the penalty of genius; and, if you have only talent, there are so many cares and worries incidental to the circumstances of men of letters, as to make life exceedingly miserable. Besides the pangs of composition, and the continuous disappointment which a true artist feels at his inability to reveal himself, there is the ever-recurring difficulty of gaining the public ear. Young writers are buoyed up by the hope and the belief that they have only to throw that poem at the world’s feet to get back in return the laurel-crown; that they have only to push that novel into print to be acknowledged at once as a new light in literature. You can never convince a young author
that the editors of magazines and the publishers of books are a practical body of men, who are by no means frantically anxious about placing the best literature before the public. Nay, that for the most part they are mere brokers, who conduct their business on the hardest lines of a Profit and Loss account. But supposing your book fairly launches, its perils are only beginning. You have to run the gauntlet of the critics. To a young author, again, this seems to be as terrible an ordeal as passing down the files of Sioux or Comanche Indians, each one of whom is thirsting for your scalp. When you are a little older, you will find that criticism is not much more serious than the bye-play of clowns in a circus, when they beat around the ring the victim with bladders slung at the end of long poses. A time comes in the life of every author when he regards critics as comical rather than formidable, and goes his way unheeding. But there are sensitive souls that yield under the chastisement and, perhaps after suffering much silent torture, abandon the profession of the pen for ever. Keats, perhaps, is the saddest example of a fine spirit hounded to death by savage criticism; because, whatever his biographers may aver, that furious attack of Clifford and Terry undoubtedly expedited his death. But no doubt there are hundreds who suffer keenly hostile and unscrupulous criticism, and who have to bear that suffering in silence, because it is a cardinal principle in literature that the most unwise thing in the world for an author is to take public notice of criticism in the way of defending himself. Silence is the only safeguard, as it is the only dignified protest against insult and offence.
-P.A. Sheehan


1. Why is the Literary Life mostly an unhappy one?
Literary life is mostly an unhappy one as artists have to bear pain to compose good writings, face continuous disappointment for their inability to reveal themselves, and cope up with the recurring difficulty of gaining publicity and recognition.


2. What are the ambitions of a young author?
Young authors think that they could just throw their works at the world’s feet and get back the laurel-crown, publicity and recognition.


3. Are editors and publishers sympathetic to young authors?
No, editors and publishers are not sympathetic to young authors. They care for their sale and business. They only care if the book will fetch them any profit or not.


4. What are some of the ordeals awaiting the young authors from the critics?
Firstly, young authors have to write their books in a creative manner, the manner by which the reader will get interested. They also have to deal with the publishing of their book and getting the public ear.


5. What attitude should an author adopt in the face of bitter critics?
Authors should be silent to criticism. They should be ignorant. If they take criticism seriously, they may fall down and quit.


6. Explain: Sioux Indians; abandon the profession of the pen; laurel-crown; to run the gauntlet; hounded to death.

  • Sioux Indians – The Sioux Indians is the largest of all the Native Indian tribes. The Sioux tribe is most harmful, and practises scalping.
  • Abandon the profession of the pen – to quit as an author, to stop writing books, poetry, novels etc.
  • Laurel crown – respect, honor and fame everywhere.
  • To run the gauntlet – to suffer in order to reach goal.
  • Hounded to death – criticized or annoyed someone so much that it becomes necessary for the person to die.

7. Write in simple English: the pangs of composition; buoyed up by the hope; mere brokers; thirsting for your scalp.

  • Pangs of composition – difficulties of creative writing
  • Buoyed up by the hope – frustrated by failure and by the hope of success
  • Mere brokers – selfish people who transport things to foreign lands for money.
  • Thirsting for your scalp – want your scalp. Literally, want to annoy you