Is there anything wrong with that? I said. Is it so different to lay away magazines than to stow unpublished manuscripts? When it comes to that my pro-nothing friend, I think it far better to have been read and forgotten than never to have been read at all.
You dissemble. At least I am earnest. At least I am striving to write something truly great. At least my wares are not beneath my dignity and if those few I have published went unpaid they at least added their small bit to the true literature of the day. You fictioneers make my hair crawl. You prostitute a godgiven gift for the sake of your stomachs. Mark my words, he said, ominously striving to put out my eyes with his useful fork, you will live to regret it.
At the time I was quite amused for it was I who paid for that ration of ham and eggs he had so manfully mauled. For a long time afterwards I related the story to my brethren amid much applause. It was so funny, you see, for this shaggy halfbake to berate the source of the money which had paid for his much-needed meal. But through the din of laughter there still hovered a small doubt. What he had said was perfectly true. In fact it was so true that I was made very uneasy. To write millions and millions of words for the magazines was wonderful from a financial standpoint. But money isnt everything or is it?
Now it so happens that this argument started long before two of the Pharaohs chief poets fanned it into the raging flame which has carried it so far down the ages. On one hand there is the fellow who consoles himself with the thought that his work, unread, is too great; and on the other the man who says that though his work is not great, it is widely read.
In such a way do we all maunder. If we write trash we apologize for it. If we write art we bellicosely defend our right to starve. In such a way do all writers put themselves on the tilt field with their resulting wounds. Few indeed are the fellows who feel neither one way or the other about it.
This argument of art vs. eats is without foundation. It is a chimera. According to Voltaire, if one must argue, one must define his terms and, certainly, it is impossible to draw a line between art and trash for, where one ends and the other begins is wholly dependent upon the taste of the man who makes the distinction.
Unless, then, it is possible to discover some generality whereby these matters can be reconciled we will continue to stumble and stagger and apologize.