Friday, November 9, 2012


There are very few moments in a man's existence when he experiences so much ludicrous distress, or meets with so little charitable commiseration, as when he is in pursuit of his own hat. A vast deal of coolness, and a peculiar degree of judgment, are requisite in catching a hat. A man must not be precipitate, or he runs over it; he must not rush into the opposite extreme, or he loses it altogether. The best way is to keep gently up with the object of pursuit, to be wary and cautious, to watch your opportunity well, get gradually before it, then make a rapid dive, seize it by the crown, and stick it firmly on your head; smiling pleasantly all the time, as if you thought it as good a joke as anybody else.

There was a fine gentle wind, and Mr. Pickwick's hat rolled sportively before it. The wind puffed, and Mr. Pickwick puffed, and the hat rolled over and over as merrily as a lively porpoise in a strong tide: and on it might have rolled, far beyond Mr. Pickwick's reach, had not its course been providentially stopped, just as that gentleman was on the point of resigning it to its fate.

For instance, there is a current impression that it is unpleasant to have to run after one's hat. Why should it be unpleasant to the well-ordered and pious mind? Not merely because it is running, and running exhausts one. The same people run much faster in games and sports. The same people run much more eagerly after an uninteresting little leather ball than they will after a nice silk hat. There is an idea that it is humiliating to run after one's hat; and when people say it is humiliating they mean that it is comic. It certainly is comic; but man is a very comic creature, and most of the things he does are comic - eating, for instance. And the most comic things of all are exactly the things that are most worth doing - such as making love. A man running after a hat is not half so ridiculous as a man running after a wife. 

Now a man could, if he felt rightly in the matter, run after his hat with the manliest ardour and the most sacred joy. He might regard himself as a jolly huntsman pursuing a wild animal, for certainly no animal could be wilder. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Clive James:

Looking back through these pages, I catch myself in a posture about the “Ode on Melancholy.” Like any other work of literature, it is my favorite only when I am reading it. One of the characteristics of a work of art is to drive all the other works of art temporarily out of your head. If comparisons come flooding in, it means that the work’s air of authority is a sham. No such fears with the “Ode on Melancholy,” which, at the time I first went mad about it, I could recite from memory—well, almost. In the matter of memorization, length sets severe limits. Hence the absurdity in the final scene of the movie Truffaut made out of Ray Bradbury’s supposedly prophetic dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. People walk around in the forest reciting Anna Karenina, etc. A nice idea, but wishful thinking, even when applied to poems. In the old Soviet Union, where, for obvious reasons, there was a great emphasis on memorizing contemporary poems, the manuscript still counted. People remembered things only until they could get them safely written down.