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The Penalties Of Fame
by [?]

There is one form of persecution to which celebrity or notoriety is subject, which Ouida has omitted in her impassioned protest. It is interviewing carried one step further–from the ridiculous to the sublime of audacity. The auto-interview, one might christen it, if the officiating purist would pass the hybrid name. Yon are asked to supply information about yourself by post, prepaid. The ordinary interview, whatever may be said against it, is at least painless; and, annoying as it is to after-reflection to have had your brain picked of its ideas by a stranger who gets paid for them, still the mechanical vexations of literature are entirely taken over by the journalist who hangs on your lips; though, if I may betray the secrets of the prison-house, he often expects you to supply the questions as well as the answers. But when you are asked to write your life for a biographical dictionary, or to communicate particulars about yourself to a newspaper, it is difficult, however equable your temperament, not to feel a modicum of irritation. It is not only the labour of writing and the cost of stamps that anger you. Your innate modesty is outraged. How is it possible for you to say all those nice things about yourself which you know to be your due, and which a third person might even exaggerate? What business have editors to expose you to such inner conflict? A scholar I knew suffered agonies from this source. He was constantly making learned discoveries which nobody understood but himself, and so editors were always pestering him to write leaderettes about them. He got over the difficulty by leaving blanks for the eulogistic adjectives, which the editors had to fill in. As thus: “Mr. Theophilus Rogers, the —- savant, has unearthed another papyrus in Asia Minor which throws a flood of light on the primitive seismology of Syria.” Once a careless editor forgot to fill in the lacuna, and the paper lost a lot of subscribers by reason of its improper language, whilst the friends of Theophilus wanted him to bring an action for libel, unconscious that it would lie against himself.

But perhaps the climax of irritation is reached when, having troubled to write down autobiographical details, having wrestled with your modesty and overthrown it, having posted your letter and prepaid it, the —- editor rejects your contribution without thanks. This hard fate overtook me–moi qui vous parle–not very long ago. The conductor of a penny journal, not unconnected with literary tit-bits, honoured me with a triple interrogatory. This professional Rosa Dartle wanted to know–

(1) The conditions under which you write your novels.

(2) How you get your plots and characters.

(3) How you find your titles.

I was very busy. I was very modest. But the accompanying assurance that an anxious world was on the qui vive for the information appealed to my higher self, and I took up my pen and wrote:–

(1) The conditions under which I write my novels can be better imagined than described.

(2) My plots and characters I get from the MSS, submitted to me by young authors, whose clever but crude ideas I hate to see wasted. I always read everything sent to me, and would advise young authors to encourage younger authors to send them their efforts.

(3) As for my titles, they are the only things I work out myself, and you will therefore excuse me if I preserve a measure of reticence as to the method by which I get them.

“What is being interviewed like?” a young lady once asked me, unconscious she was subjecting me to the process. “It is being asked what you drink–and not getting it,” I explained to her. The curiosity of the interviewer is indeed boundless. He even asks which is your favourite author, so that you are forced to advertise some other fellow. And yet there is another side to the question, which Ouida ignores. There are two periods in the life of successful persons–the first when they are anxious to be interviewed, the second when people are anxious to interview them. With some there thus arrives a third period, in which they are anxious not to be interviewed, but this is rare. Doubtless there are superior persons who never craved for fame even in their callow youth, and possibly Ouida herself may have taken to authorship as an elaborate means of diverting attention from herself. But the majority of mortals, being fools by edict of Puck and Carlyle, are pleased to fly through the lips of men. Even Tennyson, whose horror of the interviewer almost reached insanity, whose later life was one long “We are observed: let us dissemble,” is said to have been disappointed when the casual pedestrian took no notice of him at all. A lady in the Isle of Wight told me that the great poet was wont to put his handkerchief over his face if he met anybody. Naturally this would make the most illiterate person stop and gaze and wonder who this merry-andrew might be. Assuredly this is not the fine simplicity of manners one expects from a great man. “Earl, do you wear one of these?” asked an American democrat of an English peer at his table, as he produced a coronet from a cupboard and stuck the pudding-dish upon the inverted spikes. Tennyson seemed to be always conscious of his laurel crown. The nobler course had been to deck his puddings with the sprigs.