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Surely it must be lying somewhere among the wreckage of all the plaints and all the exultations poured out aloud since the first day when hope, the undying, came down on earth. It may be there, close by, disregarded, invisible, quite at hand. I believe there are men who can lay hold of a needle in a pottle of hay at the first try. For myself, I have never had such luck. And then there is that accent.
Another difficulty. For who is going to tell whether the accent is right or wrong till the word is shouted, and fails to be heard, perhaps, and goes down-wind, leaving the world unmoved?
The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad : Joseph Conrad :
Once upon a time there lived an emperor who was a sage and something of a literary man. He jotted down on ivory tablets thoughts, maxims, reflections which chance has preserved for the edification of posterity. This is very fine, but I am thinking that it is an easy matter for an austere emperor to jot down grandiose advice. Most of the working truths on this earth are humble, not heroic; and there have been times in the history of mankind when the accents of heroic truth have moved it to nothing but derision. Nobody will expect to find between the covers of this little book words of extraordinary potency or accents of irresistible heroism.
However humiliating for my self-esteem, I must confess that the counsels of Marcus Aurelius are not for me. They are more fit for a moralist than for an artist.
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Truth of a modest sort I can promise you, and also sincerity. Most, almost all, friendships of the writing period of my life have come to me through my books; and I know that a novelist lives in his work. He stands there, the only reality in an invented world, among imaginary things, happenings, and people.
Writing about them, he is only writing about himself. But the disclosure is not complete. In these personal notes there is no such veil. While these reminiscent pages were appearing serially I was remonstrated with for bad economy; as if such writing were a form of self-indulgence wasting the substance of future volumes.
It seems that I am not sufficiently literary. Indeed, a man who never wrote a line for print till he was thirty-six cannot bring himself to look upon his existence and his experience, upon the sum of his thoughts, sensations, and emotions, upon his memories and his regrets, and the whole possession of his past, as only so much material for his hands.
Practical remarks. But, truth to say, I have never understood the kind of thrift they recommend. I wanted to pay my tribute to the sea, its ships and its men, to whom I remain indebted for so much which has gone to make me what I am. That seemed to me the only shape in which I could offer it to their shades.
There could not be a question in my mind of anything else. It is quite possible that I am a bad economist; but it is certain that I am incorrigible. Having matured in the surroundings and under the special conditions of sea life, I have a special piety toward that form of my past; for its impressions were vivid, its appeal direct, its demands such as could be responded to with the natural elation of youth and strength equal to the call. There was nothing in them to perplex a young conscience. Having broken away from my origins under a storm of blame from every quarter which had the merest shadow of right to voice an opinion, removed by great distances from such natural affections as were still left to me, and even estranged, in a measure, from them by the totally unintelligible character of the life which had seduced me so mysteriously from my allegiance, I may safely say that through the blind force of circumstances the sea was to be all my world and the merchant service my only home for a long succession of years.
Being neither quarrelsome, nor a flatterer, nor a sage, I have done none of these things, and I am prepared to put up serenely with the insignificance which attaches to persons who are not meddlesome in some way or other.
But resignation is not indifference. I would not like to be left standing as a mere spectator on the bank of the great stream carrying onward so many lives. I would fain claim for myself the faculty of so much insight as can be expressed in a voice of sympathy and compassion. Fifteen years of unbroken silence before praise or blame testify sufficiently to my respect for criticism, that fine flower of personal expression in the garden of letters.
But this is more of a personal matter, reaching the man behind the work, and therefore it may be alluded to in a volume which is a personal note in the margin of the public page.
Not that I feel hurt in the least. I would not unduly praise the virtue of restraint. It is often merely temperamental. But it is not always a sign of coldness. It may be pride. Nothing more humiliating! And this for the reason that should the mark be missed, should the open display of emotion fail to move, then it must perish unavoidably in disgust or contempt. No artist can be reproached for shrinking from a risk which only fools run to meet and only genius dare confront with impunity.
The comic, when it is human, soon takes upon itself a face of pain; and some of our griefs some only, not all, for it is the capacity for suffering which makes man august in the eyes of men have their source in weaknesses which must be recognized with smiling compassion as the common inheritance of us all. Joy and sorrow in this world pass into each other, mingling their forms and their murmurs in the twilight of life as mysterious as an overshadowed ocean, while the dazzling brightness of supreme hopes lies far off, fascinating and still, on the distant edge of the horizon.
I, too, would like to hold the magic wand giving that command over laughter and tears which is declared to be the highest achievement of imaginative literature. We have all heard of simple men selling their souls for love or power to some grotesque devil. It may be my sea training acting upon a natural disposition to keep good hold on the one thing really mine, but the fact is that I have a positive horror of losing even for one moving moment that full possession of myself which is the first condition of good service.
And I have carried my notion of good service from my earlier into my later existence. As in political so in literary action a man wins friends for himself mostly by the passion of his prejudices and by the consistent narrowness of his outlook. But I have never been able to love what was not lovable or hate what was not hateful out of deference for some general principle. Whether there be any courage in making this admission I know not. So I proceed in peace to declare that I have always suspected in the effort to bring into play the extremities of emotions the debasing touch of insincerity.
And surely this is no great sin. From laughter and tears the descent is easy to snivelling and giggles. It is his clear duty. And least of all can you condemn an artist pursuing, however humbly and imperfectly, a creative aim. In that interior world where his thought and his emotions go seeking for the experience of imagined adventures, there are no policemen, no law, no pressure of circumstance or dread of opinion to keep him within bounds.
They were also Polish patriots who conspired against oppressive Russian rule; as a consequence, they were arrested and sent to live in the Russian province of Vologda with their 4-year-old son. When Conrad's parents died several years later, he was raised by an uncle in Poland. Conrad's education was erratic. He was first tutored by his literary father, then attended school in Krakow and received further private schooling. At the age of 16, Conrad left Poland and traveled to the port city of Marseilles, France, where he began his years as a mariner.
Through an introduction to a merchant who was a friend of his uncle, Conrad sailed on several French commercial ships, first as an apprentice and then as a steward. He traveled to the West Indies and South America, and he may have participated in international gun-smuggling. After a period of debt and a failed suicide attempt, Conrad joined the British merchant marines, where he was employed for 16 years. He rose in rank and became a British citizen, and his voyages around the world—he sailed to India, Singapore, Australia and Africa—gave him experiences that he would later reinterpret in his fiction.
After his seafaring years, Conrad began to put down roots on land. In , he married Jessie Emmeline George, daughter of a bookseller; they had two sons. Conrad began his own literary career in with the publication of his first novel, Almayer's Folly , an adventure tale set in the Borneo jungles. Before the turn of the century, he wrote two of his most famous and enduring novels. Lord Jim is the story of an outcast young sailor who comes to terms with his past acts of cowardice and eventually becomes the leader of a small South Seas country. Heart of Darkness is a novella describing a British man's journey deep into the Congo of Africa, where he encounters the cruel and mysterious Kurtz, a European trader who has established himself as a ruler of the native people there.
Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness contain the signature elements of Conrad's writing: faraway settings; dramatic conflicts between human characters and the brutal forces of nature; and themes of individualism, the violent side of human nature and racial prejudice. Conrad was interested in showing "psycho-political" situations that drew parallels between the inner lives of single characters and the broader sweep of human history.
Conrad continued to achieve success as an author, publishing such further novels as Nostromo and The Secret Agent , short-story collections and a memoir titled A Personal Record Many of his major works first appeared as serialized pieces in magazines, followed by the publication of the complete novel.
As his career progressed, Conrad also collected income through reprints of his novels and the sale of film rights for several books. Over the last two decades of his life, Conrad produced more autobiographical writings and novels, including The Arrow of Gold and The Rescue. His final novel, The Rover , was published in