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PAGE 3

Goat-Feathers
by [?]

I’ll never get the Pulitzer prize for the best novel or for the best play, but if there was a Pulitzer prize for the greatest human goat nobody else would be in the running. I have not got goat-feathers by the dozen or by the pound–I have them by the bale. I estimate that if all my goat-feathers were placed end to end they would reach from the bread line to the poor-house.

It is just possible that by this time you may gather that I have a grouch on myself. If so, you are right. To-day I am forty-nine years and six months old, and as a bright and shining literary light I am exactly where I was twelve years ago. I am twelve years older and have that much less time in which to complete the joy of making good as one of the great American authors. Presently the infirmities of age will begin to gnaw at me, the moths will ruin my flossy collection of goat-feathers, all those who now pat me on the back because they can make use of me free of charge will forget that I am alive, and my executors will shake their heads and say, “Ain’t it too bad he left so little!”

Distraction isn’t really good for a man if he wants to reach a goal. No salesman ever got very far by carrying too many side lines. The poorest sort of monopoly for any man to undertake is a monopoly of goat-feathers.

No man in the world had a better chance to make himself the Great American Humorist than I had when I wrote “Pigs is Pigs.” I had a good, solid foundation of fairly good humorous work under it and the little story had a wonderful success. The thing for me to have done then was to stick to humor, regardless of anything. I have written dainty stories, sympathetic stories, serious stories, all kinds of stories, but not many humorous stories. It is surprising how often editors have had to announce “A story that shows this famous humorist in an entirely new vein.”

Taking literature as a business, I can say that a humorist should have no “new vein.” Neither does a plumber succeed as a plumber by spending a large share of his working hours making violins. No one ever succeeds by allowing himself to be deflected from the most important business of life, which is making the most of the best that is in him. Even a cow does better if she sticks close to the business of eating grass and chewing the cud. When she starts in to learn to whistle like a catbird and to flit from field to field like a butterfly it is safe to say she is no longer a success in life. When a cow strays from plain milk-producing methods and begins climbing trees and turning somersaults, she may be more picturesque, but she is gathering nothing but goat-feathers. Seven farmers, a school-teacher and a tin peddler may line up along the fence and applaud her all afternoon until she is swelled with pride, but when she gets back to the barn at sundown she will not give much milk. She will not be known as a milch cow long; she will be a low grade of corned beef, a couple of flank steaks and a few pairs of three-dollar shoes.

I can sit down to write a story about a man who fell off a bridge and landed in a kettle of tar on a canal boat and, before I have completed a full paragraph, I can have stopped to clean the small o, small e, and small a of my typewriter with a toothpick, stopped to think about the pearl buttons on a vest I owned in 1894, the Spanish-American War, what the French word for “illumination” is, and whether I paid my last Liberty Loan installment. Before I have finished that first paragraph I may have stopped to fill my fountain pen, gone downtown to attend a meeting of the Red Cross Committee, started to recatalogue my published stories, and taken a trip to Chicago. Before I have got to the first period in the first sentence I may have decided that I would not have a man fall off the bridge but have a woman fall off it, that I would not have her fall off a bridge but off the Woolworth Building, that I would not have her fall into a kettle of tar but into a wagonload of feather beds, that I would not have her fall at all, that I would not write a humorous story at all, that I would not write at all, and that I would, instead, get an empty cigar box and make a toy circus wagon for my young son.