Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sydney Dobell—To Professor Nichol

TO PROFESSOR NICHOL (author of "The Architecture of the Heavens")
George Street, Edinburgh.

You and I must surely be very awful stars indeed, for the Fates are evidently obstinate against our conjunction. But the greatest human affairs, you know, have always been brought about through all manner of obstruction, and when we do meet, if something extraordinary doesn't happen I'll have no more faith in the philosophy of history.

Seriously—and it is really a serious thing to lose so pleasant a gathering, and at your house, as that to which you invite me—there seems to be something curiously unfortunate in the circumstances under which your welcome invitations always reach me…

…I must again look forward to that week in Glasgow which I still hope to spend, and before your son returns to college, one of the first pleasures of which will be, I hope, a walk to the Observatory. I am right glad you like my new book. People think me callous to all criticism; but the truth is that, in proportion to my carelessness of the ordinary oracles, is my value of the few verdicts which are likely to be verdicts. I hope that in reading it [England in Time of War] you have borne in mind that it is a book of things sung rather than said. Most of the printed objections (e.g. anent 'repetitions') that I have seen may be answered by this fact. The instinct of a song-writer teaches him to express what is necessary in the least variety of phrase, in order that no exertion of the intellect may subtract from the full force of the feelings. The exertion of the intellectual apprehension takes from the sum of that vis vivida which would otherwise be available for the passions. Labor vincit amorem.

But, as a song which made no appeal to the intellect would be too narrow to be thoroughly human, one is instinctively led to accustom the perceptions to an idea and phrase in one portion of a lyric, and then to repeat them in other parts, with slight variations, or under fresh conditions of context, &c., &c. And this instinct of the song-writer has led to the same results in all times and circumstances.



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