How to Participate

“Attribute all the royal blank verse, with a martial ring to it, to Shakespeare; all the grand ponderous ditto, with a solemn lustre as of holiness about it, to Milton; all the ardent love poetry, tricked out in affluent imagery, to Byron; all the scouring, dashing, descriptive warrior rhymes to Scott; all the sleepy, tiresome, rural stuff, to Thomson and his eternal Seasons; all the genial, warm-hearted jolly Scotch poetry, to Burns; all the tender, broken-hearted song-verses to Moore; all the broken-English poetry to Chaucer or Spenser—whichever occurs to you first; all the heroic poetry, about the impossible deeds done before Troy, to Homer; all the nauseating rebellion mush-and-milk about young fellows who have come home to die—just before the battle, mother—to George F. Root and kindred spirits; all the poetry that everybody admires and appreciates, but nobody ever reads or quotes from, to Dryden, Cowper and Shelley; all the graveyard poetry to Elegy Gray or Wolfe, indiscriminately; all the poetry that you can’t understand, to Emerson; all the harmless old platitudes, delivered with a stately and oppressive pretense of originality, to Tupper, and all the ‘Anonymous’ poetry to yourself. Bear these rules in mind and you will pass muster as a connoisseur; as long as you can talk glibly about the ‘styles’ of authors, you will get as much credit as if you were really acquainted with their works. Throw out a mangled French phrase occasionally, and you will pass for an accomplished man, and a Latin phrase dropped now and then will gain you the reputation of being a learned one. Many a distinguished ‘connoisseur’ in belles lettres and classic erudition travels on the same capital I have advanced you in this rather lengthy paragraph. Make a note of that ‘Anonymous’ suggestion—never let a false modesty deter you from ‘cabbaging’ anything you find drifting about without an owner.”

(Mark Twain, “Answers to Correspondents,” in Mark Twain: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1852–1890 (Library of America 1992) pp. 135–136.)

Or, as one of the connoisseurs of belles lettres that inhabit the comment sections of YouTube put it, “I hope other’s will take what is heard and take it with them. Ppl need to read more book’s…REAL BOOK’S.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.