(April) 15. Good Friday. Read review of Tess in The Quarterly. A smart and amusing article; but it is easy to be smart and amusing if a man will forgo veracity and sincerity…. How strange that one may write a book without knowing what one puts into it or rather, the reader reads into it. Well, if this sort of thing continues no more novel-writing for me. A man must be a fool to deliberately stand up to be shot at.
July 1. We don’t always remember as we should that in getting at the truth we get only at the true nature of the impression that an object, etc., produces on us, the true thing in itself being still, as Kant shows, beyond our knowledge.
The art of observation (during travel, etc.) consists in this: the seeing of great things in little things, the whole in the part even the infinitesimal part. For instance, you are abroad: you see an English flag on a ship-mast from the window of your hotel: you realize the English navy. Or, at home, in a soldier you see the British Army, in a bishop at your club, the Church of England; and in a steam hooter you hear Industry.
October 24. The best tragedy highest tragedy in short is that of the WORTHY encompassed by the INEVITABLE. The tragedies of immoral and worthless people are not of the best.
February 23. A story must be exceptional enough to justify its telling. We tale-tellers are all Ancient Mariners, and none of us is warranted in stopping Wedding Guests (in other words, the hurrying public) unless he has something more unusual to relate than the ordinary experience of every average man and woman.
The whole secret of fiction and the drama in the constructional part – lies in the adjustment of things unusual to things eternal and universal. The writer who knows exactly how exceptional, and how non-exceptional, his events should be made, possesses the key to the art.
I must thank you for your kind note about my fantastic little tale (The Well-Beloved), which, if it can make, in its better parts, any faint claim to imaginative feeling, will owe something of such feeling to you, for I often thought of lines of yours during the writing; and indeed, was not able to resist the quotation of your words now and then.
And this reminds me that one day, when examining several English imitations of a well-known fragment of Sappho, I interested myself in trying to strike out a bet-ter equivalent for it than the commonplace `Thou, too, shalt die,’ etc., which all the translators had used during the last hundred years. I then stumbled upon your `Thee, too, the years shall cover,’ and all my spirit for poetic pains died out of me. Those few words present, I think, the finest drama of Death and Oblivion, so to speak, in our tongue.
There is no new poetry; but the new poet if he carry the flame on further (and if not he is no new poet) comes with a new note. And that new note it is that troubles the critical waters.
Poetry is emotion put into measure. The emotion must come by nature, but the measure can be acquired by art.
January (1899). No man’s poetry can be truly judged till its last line is written. What is the last line? The death of the poet. And hence there is this quaint consolation to any writer of verse that it may be imperishable for all that anybody can tell him to the contrary; and that if worthless he can never know it, unless he be a greater adept at self-criticism than poets usually are.