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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsBooks And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - Artists And Money
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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - Artists And Money Post by :M_J_Stockton Category :Nonfictions Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2052

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Books And Persons: Being Comments On A Past Epoch 1908-1911 - Artists And Money

(_6 Oct. '10_)

A month ago, apropos of the difficulties of running a high-class literary periodical, I wrote the following words: "Idle to argue that genuine artists ought to be indifferent to money! They are not. And what is still more curious, they will seldom produce their best work unless they really do want money." This pronouncement came at an unfortunate moment, which was the very moment when Mr. Sampson happened to be denying, with a certain fine heat, the thesis of Lord Rosebery that poverty is good for poets. Somebody even quoted me against Mr. Sampson in favour of Lord Rosebery. This I much regret, and it has been on my mind ever since. I do not wish to be impolite on the subject of Lord Rosebery. He is an ageing man, probably exacerbated by the consciousness of failure. At one time--many years ago--he had his hours of righteous enthusiasm. And he has always upheld the banner of letters in a social sphere whose notorious proud stupidity has been immemorially blind to the true function of art in life. But if any remark of Lord Rosebery's at a public banquet could fairly be adduced in real support of an argument of mine, I should be disturbed. And, fact, I heartily agreed with Mr. Sampson's demolishment of Lord Rosebery's speech about genius and poverty. Lord Rosebery was talking nonsense, and as with all his faults he cannot be charged with the stupidity of his class, he must have known that he was talking nonsense. The truth is that as the official mouthpiece of the nation he was merely trying to excuse, in an official perfunctory way, the inexcusable behaviour of the nation towards its artists.

* * * * *

As regards my own assertion that genuine artists will seldom produce their best work unless they really do want money, I fail to see how it conspires with Lord Rosebery's assertion. Moreover, I must explain that I was not thinking of poets. I was thinking of prose-writers, who do have a chance of making a bit of money. Money has scarcely any influence on the activity of poets, because they are aware that, no matter how well they succeed, the chances are a million to one against any appreciable monetary reward. An extreme lack of money will, of course, hamper them, and must, of course, do harm to the artist in them. An assured plenty of money may conceivably induce lethargy. But the hope of making money by their art will not spur them on, for there is no hope. No! I ought to have said explicitly at the time that I had in mind, not poets, who by the indifference of the public are set apart from money, but of those artists who have a reasonable opportunity of becoming public darlings and of earning now and then incomes which a grocer would not despise. That these latter are constantly influenced by money, and spurred to their finest efforts by the need of the money necessary for the satisfaction of their tastes, is a fact amply proved by the experience of everybody who is on intimate terms with them in real life. It almost amounts to common literary knowledge. It applies equally to the mediocre and to the distinguished artist. Those persons who have not participated in the pleasures and the pains of intimacy with distinguished writers depending for a livelihood on their pens, can learn the truth about them by reading the correspondence of such authors as Scott, Balzac, Dickens, de Maupassant, and Stevenson. It is an absolute certainty that we owe about half the "Comedie Humaine" to Balzac's extravagant imprudence. It is equally sure that Scott's mania for landed estate was responsible for a very considerable part of his artistic output. And so on. When once an artist has "tasted" the money of art, the desire thus set up will keep his genius hard at work better than any other incentive. It occasionally happens that an artist financially prudent, after doing a few fine things, either makes or comes into so much money that he is wealthy for the rest of his life. Such a condition induces idleness, induces a disinclination to fight against artistic difficulties. Naturally! I could give living instances in England to-day. But my discretion sends me to France for an instance. Take Francois de Curel. Francois de Curel was writing, twenty years ago, dramatic works of the very best kind. Their value was acknowledged by the few, and it remains permanent. The author is definitely classed as a genius in the history of the French theatre. But the verdict has not yet been endorsed by the public. For quite a number of years M. de Curel has produced practically nothing on the stage. He has preferred to withdraw from the battle against the indifference of the public. Had he needed money, the hope of money would have forced him to continue the battle, and we should have had perhaps half a dozen really fine plays by Francois de Curel that do not at present exist. But he did not need money. He is in receipt of a large income from iron foundries.

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