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A monologue by Horace Holley
NOTE: This monologue is reprinted from Read-aloud Plays. Horace Holley. New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1916.
Brilliance—I’ll tell you what that was, at least for me. I wrote several things that people called “brilliant.” One in particular, a little play of decadent epigram. It was acted by amateurs before an admiring “select” audience.
That was when I was twenty-one. From about sixteen on I had been acutely miserable—physically miserable. I never knew when I wouldn’t actually cave in. I felt like a bankrupt living on borrowed money. Of course, it’s plain enough now—the revolt of starved nerves.
I cared only for my mind, grew only in that, and the rest of me withered up like a stalk in dry soil. So the flower drooped too—in decadent epigram. But nobody pointed out the truth of it all to me, and I scorned to give my body a thought.
People predicted a brilliant future—for me, crying inside! Then I married. I married the girl who had taken the star part in the play. According to the logic of the situation, it was inevitable. Everybody remarked how inevitable it was.
A decorative girl, you know. She wanted to be the wife of a great man…. Well, we didn’t get along. There was an honest streak in me somewhere which hated deception. I couldn’t play the part of “brilliant” young poet with any success.
She was at me all the while to write more of the same thing. And I didn’t want to. The difference between the “great” man I was supposed to be and the sick child I really was, began to torture. I knew I oughtn’t to go on any further if I wanted to do anything real.
Then one night we had an “artistic” dinner. My wife had gotten hold of a famous English poet, and through him a publisher. The publisher was her real game. I drank champagne before dinner so as to be “brilliant.” I was.
And before I realized it, Norah had secured a promise from the publisher to bring out a book of plays. I remember she said it was practically finished. But it wasn’t, only the one, and I hated that. But I sat down conscientiously to write the book that she, and apparently all the world that counted, expected me to write.
Well, I couldn’t write it. Not a blessed word! Something inside me refused to work. And there I was. In a month or so she began to ask about it. Norah thought I ought to turn them out while she waited. I walked up and down the park one afternoon wondering what to tell her….
And when I realized that either she would never understand or would despise me, I grew desperate. I wrote her a note, full of fine phrases about “incompatibility,” her “unapproachable ideals,” the “soul’s need of freedom”—things she would understand and wear a heroic attitude about—and fled.
I came here…. In a few months I was quite forgotten. That was one of the healthful things I learned. Well, I was a wreck when I came here, I wanted only to lie down under a tree…. And there it was, under that tree yonder, my salvation came.
Hunger. That was my salvation. Simple, elemental, unescapable appetite. You see I had no servant, no one at all. So I had to get up and work to prepare my food…. It was very strange. Compared with this life, my life before had been like living in a locked box.
Some one to do everything for me except think, and consequently I thought too much. But here the very fact of life was brought home to me. I spent weeks working about the house and grounds on the common necessities.
By the time winter came on the place was fit to live in—and I was enjoying life. All the “brilliance” had faded away; I was as simple as a blade of grass. For a year I didn’t write a word. I had the courage to wait for the real thing, nobody pestering me to be a “genius”!
Some day you may read that first book. People said I had re-discovered the virtue of humility. I had.