Monday, March 3, 2014

The 36 Miseries Of Reading And Writing In 1806

by Stephen J. Gertz

"TO THE MISERABLE CHILDREN of Misfortune, wheresoever found, and whatsoever enduring — ye who, arrogating to yourselves a kind of sovereignty of suffering, maintain that all the throbs of torture, all the pungency of sorrow, all the bitterness of desperation, are your own — who are so torn and spent with the storms and struggles of mortality, as to faint, or freeze, even at the personation of those ruined Wretches, whose Stories wash the stage of tragedy with tears and blood —approach a more disastrous scene! Take courage to behold a Pageant of calamities, which calls you to renounce your sad monopoly. Dispassionately ponder all your worst of woes, in turn with these; then hasten to distill from the comparison an opiate for your fiercest pangs; and learn to recognize the leniency of your Destinies, if they have spared you from the lightest of those mightier and more grinding agonies, which claim to be emphatically characterized as 'The Miseries of Human Life;' — miseries which excruciate the minds and bodies of none more insupportably, than of those Heroes in anguish, those writhing Martyrs to the plagues and frenzies of vexation, whose trembling hands must shortly cease to trace the names of" -

Mssrs. Timothy Testy and Samuel Sensitive, whom, acting on behalf of their creator, writer and clergyman James Beresford, satirically related, in The Miseries of Human Life (1806), the mortifying torments that plagued contemporary readers and writers and thwarted enjoyment of those justly exalted pastimes. Some of the following agonies are of their time, others are timeless, many are familiar to book collectors, and all appear in numerical order as in the book yet differently formatted. The order is not a ranking, though number one has always been and will always be #1.

1. Reading over a passage in an author, for the hundredth time, without coming an inch nearer to the meaning of it at the last reading than at the first; — then passing over it in despair, but without being able to enjoy the rest of the book from the painful consciousness of your own real or supposed stupidity.

2. As you are reading drowsily by the fire, letting your book fall into the ashes so as to lose your place, rumple and grime 'the leaves, and throw out your papers of reference; then, on rousing and recollecting yourself, finding that you do not know a syllable of what you have been winking over for the last hour.

3. In reading a new and interesting book, being reduced to make a paper knife of your finger. [Refers to a once absolutely necessary reading accessory to open the upper edges of text gatherings left folded by the printer or binder - SJG].

4. Unfolding a very complicated map in a borrowed book of value, and notwithstanding all your care, enlarging the small rent you originally made in it every time you open it.

5. Hunting on a cold scent, in a map for a place — in a book for a passage — in a variety of Dictionaries for a word:— clean thrown out at last.

6. Reading a comedy aloud when you are half asleep, and quite stupid.

7. In attempting, at a strange house, to take down a large book from a high, crowded shelf, bringing half the library up on your nose.

8. Mining through a subject, or science purely from the shame of ignorance.

9. Receiving "from the author," a book equally heavy in the literal, and the figurative sense; accompanied with entreaties that you would candidly set down in writing, your detailed opinions of it in all its parts.

10. Reading a borrowed book so terribly well bound, that you are obliged to peep your way through it, for fear of breaking the stitches, or the leather, if you fairly open it; and which, consequently, shuts with a spring, if left a moment to itself.

11. Or, after you have long been reading the said book close by the fire, (which is not quite so ceremonious, as you are about opening it), attempting in vain to shut it, the covers violently flapping back in a warped curve — in counteracting which, you crack the leather irreparably, in a dozen places.

12. On taking a general survey of your disordered library, for the purpose of re-arranging it — finding a variety of broken sets, and odd volumes, of valuable works, which you had supposed to be complete; — and then, after screwing up your brows upon it for an hour, finding yourself wholly unable to recollect to whom any one of the missing books has been lent, or even to guess what has become of them; and, at the same time, without having the smallest hope of ever being able to replace them. Likewise,

13. Your pamphlets, and loose printed sheets daily getting ahead, and running mountain high upon your shelves, before you have summoned courage to tame them, by sorting and sending them to the binder.

14. As an author — those moments during which you are relieved from the fatigues of composition by finding that your memory, your intellects, your imagination, your spirits, and even the love of your subject, have all, as if with one consent, left you in the lurch. 

15. In coming to that paragraph of a newspaper, for the sake of which you have bought it, finding, in that only spot, the paper blurred, or left white, by the press, or slapped over with the sprawling red stamp.

16. Reading newspaper poetry; — which, by a sort of fatality which you can neither explain nor resist, you occasionally slave through, in the midst of the utmost repugnance an disgust.

17. As you are eagerly taking up a newspaper, being yawningly told by one who has just laid it down, that "there is nothing in it." Or, the said paper sent for by the lender, at the moment when you are beginning to read it.

18. Having your ears invaded all the morning long, close at your study window, by the quack of ducks, and the cackle of hens, with an occasional bass accompaniment by an ass.

19. Writing a long letter, with a very hard pen, on very thin and very greasy paper, with very pale ink, to one who you wish — I needn't say where.

20. On arriving at that part of the last volume of an enchanting novel, in which the interest is wrought up to the highest pitch — suddenly finding the remaining leaves, catastrophe and all, torn out.

21. Burning your fingers with an inch of sealing wax; and then dropping awry the guinea to which you are reduced by the want of a seal.

22. In writing — neither sand, blotting paper, nor a fire, to dry your paper; so that, though in violent haste, you sit with your hands before you, at the end of every other page, till the ink thinks proper to dry of itself; — Or toiling your wrist, for ten minutes together, with a sand glass that throws out two or three damp grains at a time; and in consequence of such delay —

23. Losing the post — and this, when you would as willingly lose your life.

24. Emptying the ink glass (by mistake for the sand glass) on a paper which you have just written out fairly — and then widening the mischief, by applying restive blotting paper.

25. Putting a wafer, of the size of a half crown piece, into a letter with so narrow a fold, that one half of the circle stands out in sight, and is presently smeared over the paper by your fingers, in stamping the concealed half.

26. Writing on the creases of paper that has been sharply folded.

27. In sealing a letter - the wax in so very melting a mood, as frequently to leave a burning kiss on your hand, instead of the paper: — next, when you have applied the seal, and all, at last, seems well over — said wax voluntarily "rendering up its trust," the moment after it has undertaken it.

28. Writing at the top of a very long sheet of paper; so that you either rumple and crease the lower end of it with your arm against the table, in bring it lower down, or bruise your chest, and drive out all your breath, in stretching forward to the upper end.

29. Straining your eyes over a book in the twilight, at the rate of about five minutes per line, before it occurs to you to order candles; and when they arrive, finding that you have totally lost the sense of what you have been reading, by the tardy operation of getting at it piecemeal.

30. Attempting to erase writing — but, in fact, only scratching boles in the paper.

31. Snatching up an inkstand (overweighted on one side) by its handle, which you suppose to be fixed, but which proves — to swing .

32. Writing at the same ricketty table with another, who employs his shoulder, elbow, and body, still more actively than his fingers.

33. Writing, on the coldest day in the year, in the coldest room in the house, by a fire which has sworn not to burn; and so, perpetually dropping your full pen upon your paper, out of the five icicles with which you vainly endeavour to hold it.

34. Looking for a good pen, (which it is your perverse destiny never to find, except when you are indifferent about it), and having a free choice among the following varieties. (N. B. No penknife).

35. Writing with ink of about the consistency of pitch, which leaves alternately a blot and a blank.

36. Writing a long letter with one or more of the cut fingers of your right hand bundled up — or else (for more comfort), with your left hand. You might as well stick a pen in a bear's paw, and bid him write.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email