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The Penalties of Authorship
Harper’s Weekly (December 5, 1908) : 29 : link

      Is it wise of authors to admit their calling, and is there not a great wisdom in knowing when to conceal it? The penalties of authorship are so many that it is almost foolhardy to publicly recognize a book as one’s own and admit freely that one writes. Mrs. Mary Wilkins Freeman hoped, no doubt, to lead a quiet, peaceful life in Metuchen, but as each of her books appears fresh feuds are started, and each inhabitant of that once happy town feels that he has been betrayed, exposed, by the treacherous author person living in their midst. And the poor writer who built his summer residence, who hoped to settle down, perhaps even start a family-seat, is forced to move on, to seek places where his failing is not known, to become one of the homeless of the earth. Why, before long authors will be nothing more than gypsies, who, after all, only tell too much (which is what the authors do) and are hooted and hated for their talents. We read, a very long time ago, a charming story of a beautiful young girl who married a tall handsome man who had great riches, and who showered her with gifts, but would not tell what his business was. He left the house promptly every morning at eight and returned with clinking gold in his pockets at five. The beautiful young girl asked him what it was he did, and he, with a darkened countenance, told her never to utter that thought again. Then this modern Psyche, not wholly assured by the regularity of his habits, went forth to find what she could find. As she was crossing a street where the traffic was very heavy, and just as she was about to be trampled underfoot by a pair of champing steeds, just as death stared her in the face, there was a loud cry from the bent old man who swept the crossing, and catching the beautiful young girl in his arms, his wig and beard at that moment falling from him, he carried her to safety, gold trickling from his pockets; but he heeded not the lost tips, for he had saved the life of his beautiful young wife. Now, to an unthinking person it may seem that this tale has nothing to do with the case of the author. But it seems to us that in a few years there will be little to choose between the life the the painted crossing-sweeper and the author who slinks by divers routes to his publishers, who perhaps has had built an underground passage that will enable him to reach his booksellers unseen.
      Suspicious families will egg on their daughters to follow their husbands with a lighted lamp and a dagger; but they with modern wisdom will have an idea or two as to what is done with all the paper that comes into the house, and guessing why ink is everywhere, even on the children’s clothes, will buy large volumes of javelle-water and assure their families that they know their husbands to be grocers. And with this noble lie those men will be saved from what torture!
      Authors of long standing, authors who are almost hardened to the fact of being authors and are occasionally happy in spite of their calling, find that the only friend they can be sure of is a gardener or a barber, or some one else who neither reads nor writes. The only people authors are genuinely comfortable with are children. Not that they are fond of children; they may dislike them very much indeed, but children do not know an author when they see one, or if the do are not quite aware of what the title implies, and think it may mean something really nice. From time to time the world and the newspapers united in saying unkind things about a uthors who have not written for a year or two. They jibe at their inactivity, whereas it should be simplicity itself to guess what the authors are doing during this time of apparent idleness. They are assuring their friends of the complete lack of connection between them and the characters in their latest books. Protestations are of so little avail that it takes a year or so of devoted admiration to prove to your brother-in-law that he is not your latest villain, and to calm the suspicion of your doctor as to his being the rotchety old man that you so satirized in your novel before last. This is hard work and it shows that to live at all an author must be almost twice as much of a diplomat as he is a writer. For, as Oscar Wilde has ointed out, people follow the line that their corresponding type takes in fiction. A red-haired woman is made to become morbid in a book. A red-haird reader does become morbid, and blames the author for having written of her when he should sue her for plagiarisms. For an author’s friends, six months after the publication of a book, to develop certain characteristics of his characters, is a mode of imitation that is highly irritating and one that no author will consent to be help responsible for.
      A man forgetting that his last book is still being talked about appears at a reception. He came from the simplest, most human of motives — just a desire to see his friends and to hear a little intentional nonsense talked. He is greeted by a woman with whom he crossed four years ago. She wears a meaning smile, and her first words are, “So you think that I look upon every man I meet as a prospective lover, do you?”
      The author, quite at sea, murmurs, “I beg your pardon?”
      “Oh, you needn’t pretend that you don’t remember. Why, you actually described the things I wore on the steamer.”
      The author is torn between a desire to tell her that he does not remember what she wore nor did he notice them at the time, and a faint instinct for courtesy. Couresy winning, he says, “If only which you have been one of the characters in my book. I know the other characters would so have enjoyed having you there.”
      She is not in the least mollified, and only answers, defiantly: “I suppose you’ll put that in your book. Well, I won’t say any clever things for you, so you needn’t talk to me.” Then she moves on; but it will be readily see that she has spoiled the afternoon for the poor, well-meaning author. He falls back on his family, and in a frenzy of folksiness calls on an aunt who encouraged him so kindly when he first began to write. Now she receives him with an angry flounce of her cap, and snots: “Sit down. I’ve been wanting to see you, young man. I was on the verge of sending for you. It’s just as well that you’ve ome. Now, sir, you think that old age is not worth respecting, do you? You think that it is materialistic, that youth is the time when people are noble, have ideals, and should be listened to . It grieves you, does it , the knowledge that as one birthday follows the other you are after the age of forty deteriorating? Age is pitiable because it’s a ‘comd down,’ according to you. Now, I am sixty, and I wish to tell you that—“ Here the gasping author manages to say that he had an erratic youth say that in his last book: it was the youth’s idea, not his. “Didn’t you invent the character of the youth?” booms the old lady. “Could you have given him an idea that you did not have in your own head? Certainly not, and it only remains for me to say that you are a —” From this point on her remarks are forceful and upsetting; there is no need of printing them in detail; especially as all our sympathy goes out to the young author. The time comes when he has to choose between keeping his friends and giving up writing, or being affluent, friendless, a writer of distinction, but a deserted, unattached wanderer. His one wish is to be a liked, respectable citizen, but he is a marked man, and nowhere does he find peace. He is pinned to the theories he has expressed in a book, and he wiggles on them unhappily. Every one else gossips and is forgiven; he describes an imaginary character and is hated for his exposure of a dozen people all differing radically and all sure they are the character in question. A real sin is in time forgotten; an imagined one committed by an author is is ounced upon, read into the third and fourth edition, and remembered when he is dead. The nameless clan of McGregors were fortunate and happy compared with the wandering clan of authors, the poor souls who go to the furthermost ends of the world in order to hide their well-known heads.

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    Mary Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930), professor of history, economics... : wikipedia

11 November 2022