Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Waugh on Chesterton

"He was a loveable and much loved man abounding in charity and humility. Humility is not a virtue propitious to the artist. It is often pride, emulation, avarice, malice-- all the odious qualities-- which drive a man to complete, elaborate, refine, destroy, renew, his work until he has made something that gratifies his pride and envy and greed. And in doing so he enriches the soul more than the generous and good, though he may lose his own soul in the process. This is the paradox of artistic achievement."

"Chesterton", Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh

For what it's worth. Personally, I have never enjoyed a line of Evelyn Waugh's writing; browsing the book from which this quotation is taken, I felt suffocated by the airless prose, and rather repelled by the solemnity with which he treats art and literature. Give my Chesterton's swingeing style any day. Of course, I am biased.

I also tend to think that good art is ultimately moral art, and that Oscar Wilde's claim that "a book is well written or badly written; that is all" is superficial. It was not Byron's egomania and decadence that wrote "She walks in beauty, like the night..." It was whatever tenderness and reverence he had preserved.

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