“Sir,” says the Colonel, “I hope it is not your practice to measure and estimate gentlemen by such paltry standards as those. A man of letters follows the noblest calling which any man can pursue. I would rather be the author of a work of genius, than be Governor-General of India. I admire genius. I salute it whenever I meet it. I like my own profession better than any in the world, but then it is because I am suited to it. I couldn’t write four lines in verse, no, not to save me from being shot. A man cannot have all the advantages of life. Who would not be poor if he could be sure of possessing genius, and winning fame and immortality, sir? Think of Dr. Johnson, what a genius he had, and where did he live? In apartments that, I daresay, were no better than these, which, I am sure, gentlemen, are most cheerful and pleasant,” says the Colonel, thinking he had offended us.
– from THE NEWCOMES, by W. M. Thackeray
Why have I waited this long to read more Thackeray? I only picked up THE NEWCOMES in the Ravenswood library because it had illustrations by Edward Ardizzone, who I have loved since seeing his illustrations of Eleanor Farjeon’s THE LITTLE BOOKROOM when I was a kid. Little did I know how good it was going to be. I find myself slowing down in deference to the density of Thackeray’s writing. I’m going to have to start over again from the beginning and read it at the pace of a snail – but what a happy snail. I think I’m going to enjoy this as much as the time when I was in Berlin and I decided to read every novel Thomas Hardy had ever written.