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Opinions Of The Young Fogey
by [?]

When I first met the Young Fogey I thought him very brilliant. His philosophical pose, too, of combining the caution of age with the daring of youth was fascinating. “I have evolved,” he used to say. “Once I would not attach sanctity to ideas because they were old: now I attach no sanctity to ideas because they are new.” But I soon discovered that the Young Fogey was one of that large class of persons who do not evolve but revolve, whose brilliancy is that of the fixed star. They give out arrestive thoughts, and you are vastly impressed, but on longer acquaintance, or on returning to them after an interval, you find that it is they who have been arrested by their thoughts. Such persons do not last you more than one or two years: they require a succession of new audiences to keep up their reputation, like a witty play, which all the world goes to see in turn, but which it would be deucedly dull to see night after night, year in, year out. The cleverest of them know this need of new ears, and of making provincial and foreign tours when they have exhausted London. But when the Young Fogey chanced upon me drinking lager beer at the Austrian Derby, during a tedious interval between the races, he was probably confused by the distance from Piccadilly into a sense of originality, and perceiving a couple of books on my table: “What! do you read the books you review?” he asked in feigned astonishment; adding, with an impromptu air, “I always write the books I review. Criticism of other people is waste of time. An artist who is worth his salt knows his value better than anybody else; and an artist who is not worth his salt is not worth your criticism, and will learn nothing from it in any case. There is immeasurably too much book-making, as it is.”

“But criticism tends to keep down book-making,” I observed meekly.

“Quite the contrary. Criticism encourages it. Most books are not read. Who can possibly read ninety-nine of the worst hundred books published every week? If they were not even criticised, the writers would shut up their inkstands. Publicity is their aim, but publication does not supply it. Most publishers are rather privateers. It is the critics who supply fame to fools. It’s even worse with plays. Why should every trumpery farce that can get itself badly produced by a moneyless manager who decamps the day after, be allotted a space in every morning, evening, and weekly newspaper, Fame blowing simultaneously a hundred trumps? My greatest book never got half as much notice as a wretched little curtain-raiser which took me a morning to knock off, and the news of which was flashed from China to Peru immediately, whereas the eulogies of my book were dribbled out in monthly instalments, and belated testimonials kept straggling in long after its successor had been published. In those days I belonged to a Press-cutting Agency, and I discovered that–to measure Fame by the square inch–you may get many more yards of reputation by the most flippant playlet than by your literary magnum opus; to say nothing of the pictures and interviews of your actors and actresses. That your silliest player–especially if it be a pretty she–gets photographed in the papers sixteen times to your once, goes without saying. The only real recipe for Fame nowadays is to be a pretty girl and exhibit yourself publicly. The modern editor has got it into the paste-brush he calls his head that the public is infinitely greedy for the minutest theatrical details. It is really too idiotic, this fuss over our parrots. If there were only plays for them to talk! The decline of the British drama—-“

“By which you mean that they decline your plays,” I interrupted.