Friday, May 31, 2013


Always on the Look-Out for Slights

James Payn (1830-1898), "On Taking Offence," The Backwater of Life; or, Essays of a Literary Veteran (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1899), pp. 101-110 (at 103-104):
To the grievance-monger there is nothing so objectionable as an explanation. It is putting out the fire beside which he nurses his wrath and keeps it warm. In the atmosphere of his discontent, his wrong has assumed gigantic proportions, and it is very disagreeable to see it melt away in the wholesome air of commonsense. When we see a play on the stage built up on some misunderstanding which three words would dissipate, we exclaim 'How absurd! How unnatural!' but these people weave a life-drama for themselves out of these very materials, and take their pleasure in a maze of feelings warranted of their own manufacture. They are always on the look-out for slights; a depreciatory observation, a glance which can be construed to imply contempt, is at once furnished with a personal application, and provides them with their desideratum; even silence has been known to furnish it. The 'Hurt' family, to which they belong, has many branches, but the type is the same throughout. If fortune, so far from being 'outrageous,' has neither strings nor arrows, there are at least nettles to be found, and they proceed to divest themselves of their last garment and roll in them.

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