Monday, June 9, 2008

a deficiency of courage

Joseph Conrad to H. G. Wells

6th Sept. 1898.
The Cearne.*

My Dear Sir,
I am profoundly touched by your letter--and [E. V.] Lucas whom I expect to see this evening shall have my warmest thanks for his share in procuring me this unexpected piece of real good fortune.

A few days ago I heard with great concern the news of your illness. It saddened me the more because for the last two years (since your review of the Outcast in Saturday Review compelled me to think seriously of many things till then unseen) I have lived on terms of close intimacy with you, referring to you many a page of my work, scrutinizing many sentences by the light of your criticism. Your are responsible for many sheets torn up and also for those that remained untorn and presently meeting your eye have given me the reward of your generous appreciation.

It has been treasured, and if two letters I wrote to you in that time were never sent it is only a further proof of our intimacy. I had obtained so much from you that it was unnecessary to presume further. And, indeed, there was perhaps a deficiency of courage. I am no more valorous than the rest of us. We all like in our audacities to feel something solid at our backs. Such a feeling is unknown to me. This confession is induced by honesty, which you will take for what it is worth. To be dishonest is a dangerous luxury for most of us, I fancy, and I am sure it is so for me.

As to the flaws of "Youth"** their existence is indisputable. I felt what you say myself--in a way. The feeling however which induced me to write that story was genuine (for once) and so strong that it poked its way through the narrative (which it certainly defaces) in a good many places. I tell you this in the way of explanation simply. Otherwise the thing is unjustifiable.

Looking at your letter, so dim in the sunlight, I cannot help thinking what a lucky day it was for me when in 1880 I shipped in the Palestine. And it was a gloomy, rainy day too. Well. Peace to its ashes. Only four years ago poor old Beard*** ran after me outside the South West India Dock gates. He was a little greyer, a little more twisted and gnarled. He was very grimy and had a chocolate coloured muffler round his throat. He told me he had piloted a foreigner down the North Sea. His eyes were perfectly angelic. This is not a sentimental exaggeration but an honest attempt to convey the effect. He was so bent that he was always looking upwards, so to speak. In the poky bar of a little pub he told me "Since my wife died I can't rest." He had not been able to snatch her in his arms that time. He said he was glad I "got on" and did not allude to our voyage towards Bangkok. I should think he can rest where he is now.

Yes. The story should have been ended where you say or perhaps at the next paragraph describing the men sleeping in the boats. I am afraid I am wearying you not a little, but it has been such a pleasure to talk to you a bit that I gave rein to my ferocious selfishness for once. I would like to hear how your recovery progresses and when you are going back to work. May it be soon! I--for one--cannot have enough of your work. You have done me good. You have been doing me good every day for many months past. Some day you will perhaps deny me--cast me out--but it will be too late. I shall be always yours.

*Joseph Conrad was then at Edward Garnett's.
**"Youth" had just been published in Blackwood's Magazine.
***The Late captain of the Palestine.
-from Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters edited by G. Jean-Aubry (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page, 1927) p. 248-49.

No comments: