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Georg Brandes




Reading Books

He who possesses talent should also possess courage. He must dare trust his inspiration, he must be convinced that the fancy which flashes through his brain is a healthy one, that the form which comes natural to him, even if it be a new one, has a right to assert its claims; he must have gained the hardihood to expose himself to the charge of being affected, or on the wrong path, before he can yield to his instinct and follow it wherever it may imperiously lead. When Armand Carrel, a young journalist at the time, was censured by the editor of the paper for which he wrote, who, pointing to a passage in the young man's article, remarked, `That is not the way people write,' he replied, `I do not write as people write, but as I myself write,' and this is the universal formula of a gifted nature. It countenances neither fugitive rubbish, nor arbitrary invention, but with entire self-consciousness it expresses the right of talent, when neither traditional form nor existing material suffices to meet the peculiar requirements of its nature, to choose new material, to create new forms, until it finds a soil of a quality to give nurture to all of its forces and gently and freely develop them. Such a soil the poet Hans Christian Andersen found in the nursery story.

In his stories we meet with beginnings like this: Any one might have supposed that something very extraordinary had happened in the duck-pond, there was such a commotion. All the ducks some swimming, some standing in the pond with their heads downward suddenly jumped on land, leaving the traces of their feet in the wet clay, and sending forth a loud, startled cry,' or like the following: `Now, then, let us begin. When we are at the end of the story, we shall know more than we know now: but to begin. Once upon a time there was a wicked sprite, indeed, he was the most mischievous of all sprites!' The construction, the position of the words in individual sentences, the entire arrangement, is at variance with the simplest rules of syntax. `This is not the way people write.' That is true; but it is the way they speak. To grown people? No, but to children; and why should it not be proper to commit the words to writing in the same order in which they are spoken to children? In such a case the usual form is simply exchanged for another; not the rules of abstract written language, but the power of comprehension of the child is here the determining factor; there is method in this disorder, as there is method in the grammatical blunder of the child when it makes use of a regular imperfect for an irregular verb. To replace the accepted written language with the free, unrestrained Ianguage of familiar conversation, to exchange the more rigid form of expression of grown people for such as a child uses and under-stands, becomes the true goal of the author as soon as he embraces the resolution to tell nursery stories for children. He has the bold intention to employ oral speech in a printed work, he will not write but speak, and he will gladly write as a school-child writes, if he can thus avoid speaking as a book speaks. The written word is poor and insufficient, the oral has a host of allies in the expression of the mouth that imitates the object to which the discourse relates, in the movement of the hand that describes it, in the length or shortness of the tone of the voice, in its sharp or gentle, grave or droll character, in the entire play of the features, and in the whole bearing. The nearer to a state of nature the being addressed, the greater aids to comprehension are these auxiliaries. Whoever tells a story to a child, involuntarily accompanies the narrative with many gestures and grimaces, for the child sees the story quite as much as it hears it, paying heed, almost in the same way as the dog, rather to the tender or irritated intonation, than to whether the words express friendliness or wrath. Whoever, therefore, addresses himself in writing to a child must have at his command the changeful cadence, the sudden pauses, the descriptive gesticulations, the awe-inspiring mien, the smile which betrays the happy turn of affairs, the jest, the caress, and the appeal to rouse the flagging attention all these he must endeavor to weave into his diction, and as he cannot directly sing, paint, or dance the occurrences to the child, he must imprison within his prose the song, the picture, and the pantomimic movements, that they may lie there like forces in bonds, and rise up in their might as soon as the book is opened. In the first place, no circumlocution; everything must be spoken fresh from the lips of the narrator, aye, more than spoken, growled, buzzed, and blown as from a trumpet: `There came a soldier marching along the high-road one, two! one, two!' `And the carved trumpeters blew, "Trateratra! there is the little boy! Trateratra !" ' "` Listen how it is drumming on the burdock-leaves, rum-dum-dum! rum-dumdum!" said the Father Snail.' At one time he begins, as in `The Daisy,' with a `Now you shall hear!' which at once arrests the attention; and again he jests after the fashion of a child: `So the soldier cut the witch's head off. There she lay!' We can hear the laughter of the child that follows this brief, not very sympathetic, yet extremely clear presentation of the destruction of an impostor. Often he breaks into a sentimental tone...



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