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Just Around The Corner Post by :ghuffman Category :Essays Author :Heywood Broun Date :November 2011 Read :3760

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Just Around The Corner

We sometimes wonder just how and what Joseph Conrad would have written if he had never gone to sea. It may be that he would never have written at all if he had not been urged on by the emotion which he felt about ships and seas and great winds. And yet we regret sometimes that he is so definitely sea-struck. After all, Conrad is a man so keen in his understanding of the human heart that he can reach deep places. It is sometimes a pity, therefore, that he is so much concerned with researches which take him down into nothing more than water, which, even at its mightiest, is no such infinite element as the mind of man.

Typhoons and hurricanes make a brave show of noise and fury, but there is nothing in them but wind. No storm which Conrad ever pictured could be half so extraordinary as the tumult which went on in the soul of Lord Jim. We notice at this point that we have used heart and mind and soul without defining what we meant by any of them. We mean the same thing in each case, but for the life of us we don't know just what it is. Lord Jim, of course, is a great book, but to our mind the real battle is a bit obscured by the strangeness and the vividness of the external adventures through which the hero passes. There is danger that the attention of the reader may be distracted by silent seas and savage tribes and jungles from the fact that Jim's fight was really fought just behind his forehead; that it was a fight which might have taken place in Trafalgar Square or Harlem or Emporia.

Naturally, we have no right to imply that nothing of consequence can happen in wild and strange places. There is just as much romance on Chinese junks as on Jersey Central ferryboats. But no more. Here is the crux of our complaint. Conrad and Kipling and the rest have written so magnificently about the far places that we have come to think of them as the true home of romance. Indeed, we have almost been induced to believe that there is nothing adventurous west of Suez. Hereabouts, it seems as if one qualified as a true romancer simply from the fact of living in Shanghai or Singapore, or just off the island of Carimata. And yet we suppose there are people in Shanghai who cobble shoes all day long and sleep at nights, and that there are dishes to be washed in Singapore.

For our own part, we remember that we once spent ten days in Peking, and our liveliest recollection is that one night we held a ten high straight flush in hearts against two full houses. One of them was aces and kings. That was adventure, to be sure, and yet we have held a jack high straight flush in clubs against four sixes in no more distant realm than West Forty-fourth Street.

Adventure is like that. It always seizes upon a person when he least expects it. There is no good chasing to the ends of the earth after romance. Not if you want the true romance. It moves faster than tramp steamers or pirate schooners. We hold that there is no validity in the belief that a little salt will assist the capture; no, not even when it is mixed with spume, or green waves, or purple seas. Only this year we saw a play about a youngster who pined away to death because he neglected to accept an opportunity to sail around the world. He wanted adventure. He starved for romance. He felt sure that it was in Penang and not in the fields of his father's farm. It was not reasonable for him thus to break his heart. If Romance had marked him for her own the hills of Vermont would have been no more a barrier to her coming than the tops of the Andes.

(The end)
Heywood Broun's essay: Just Around The Corner

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