restricted access Chapter 18.a Why American Writers and Orators Are Often Bombasticb
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843 s4s4s4s4s4 c h a p t e r 1 8a Why American Writers and Orators Are Often Bombasticb I have often noticed that the Americans, who generally treat matters with a clear and spare language devoid of all ornamentation, and whoseextreme simplicity is often common, fall readily into bombast as soon as they want to take up poetic style. They then appear pompous without letup from one end of the speech to the other; and seeing them lavish images at every turn in this way, you would think that they never said anything simply. The English fall more rarely into a similar fault. The cause of this can be pointed out without much difficulty. In democratic societies, each citizen is habitually busy contemplating a very small object, which is himself. If he comes to raise his eyes higher, he then sees only the immense image of society, or the still greater figure of the human species. He has only very particular and very clear ideas, or very general and very vague notions; the intermediate space is empty. a. 1. Men who live in democracies have only very small ideas that relate to themselves or very general ones. As soon as you take them out of themselves, they want the gigantesque. 2. Their writers give it to them readily because they have similar instincts and as well because they have the democratic taste of succeeding quickly and with littlecost. 3. Among democratic peoples poetic sources are beautiful, but rare. They are soon exhausted. Andthenyouthrowyourself intothemonstrousandtheimaginary(YTC, CVf, p. 19). b. On the jacket of the manuscript: “Perhaps this chapter is too thin to be put separately and should be joined to the preceding one.” 844 american writers and orators So when you have drawn him out of himself, he is always waiting for you to offer him some prodigious object to look at, and it is only at this price that he agrees to keep himself away for a moment from the small complicated concerns that agitate and charm his life. This seems to me to explain well enough why men of democracies who in general have such narrow affairs, demand from their poets such vastconceptions and portraits so beyond measure. For their part, writers hardly fail to obey these instincts that they share; they inflatetheir imaginationconstantly,andexpandingitbeyondmeasure, they make it reach the gigantesque, for which they often abandon thegreat. In this way, they hope immediately to attract the eyes of the crowd and to fix them easily on themselves, and they often succeed in doing so; for the crowd, which seeks in poetry only very vast subjects, does not havetime to measure exactly the proportions of all the subjects that are presented to it, or taste sure enough to see easily in what way they are disproportionate. The author and the public corrupt each other at the same time. We have seen, moreover, that among democratic peoples the sources of poetry were beautiful, but not very abundant. You soon end by exhausting them. Finding no more material for the ideal in the real and in the true, poets leave them entirely and create monsters. I am not afraid that the poetry of democratic peoples may show itself to be timid or that it may stay very close to the earth. I am apprehensive instead that it may lose itself at every moment in the clouds, and that it may finish by portraying entirely imaginary realms. I fear that the works of democratic poets may offer immense and incoherent images, overcharged portraits, bizarre compositions, and that the fantastic beings that have emerged from their mind may sometimes cause the real world to be missed. ...