Tuesday, May 28, 2013


In This World Every Man Is His Own King

David Grayson, pseudonym of Ray Stannard Baker (1870-1946), Adventures in Contentment (1906; rpt. Garden City: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1922), pp. 201-203:
What a convenient and delightful world is this world of books!—if you bring to it not the obligations of the student, or look upon it as an opiate for idleness, but enter it rather with the enthusiasm of the adventurer! It has vast advantages over the ordinary world of daylight, of barter and trade, of work and worry. In this world every man is his own King—the sort of King one loves to imagine, not concerned in such petty matters as wars and parliaments and taxes, but a mellow and moderate despot who is a true patron of genius—a mild old chap who has in his court the greatest men and women in the world—and all of them vying to please the most vagrant of his moods! Invite any one of them to talk, and if your highness is not pleased with him you have only to put him back in his corner—and bring some jester to sharpen the laughter of your highness, or some poet to set your faintest emotion to music!

I have marked a certain servility in books. They entreat you for a hearing: they cry out from their cases—like men, in an eternal struggle for survival, for immortality.

"Take me," pleads this one, "I am responsive to every mood. You will find in me love and hate, virtue and vice. I don't preach: I give you life as it is. You will find here adventures cunningly linked with romance and seasoned to suit the most fastidious taste. Try me."

"Hear such talk!" cries his neighbour. "He's fiction. What he says never happened at all. He tries hard to make you believe it, but it isn't true, not a word of it. Now, I'm fact. Everything you find in me can be depended upon."

"Yes," responds the other, "but who cares! Nobody wants to read you, you're dull."

"You're false!"

As their voices grow shriller with argument your highness listens with the indulgent smile of royalty when its courtiers contend for its favour, knowing that their very life depends upon a wrinkle in your august brow.

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