My friend Mr. Sidney Mandragon is getting on. He is now one of the great ones of the earth. He has just been referred to as “Among those present was Mr. Sidney Mandragon.”
As everybody knows (or will know when they have read this article) the four stages along the road to literary fame are marked by the four different manners in which the traveller’s presence at a public function is recorded in the Press. At the first stage the reporter glances at the list of guests, and says to himself, “Mr. George Meredith –never heard of him,” and for all the world knows next morning, Mr. George Meredith might just as well have stayed at home. At the second stage (some years later) the reporter murmurs to his neighbour in a puzzled sort of way: “George Meredith? George Meredith? Now where have I come across that name lately? Wasn’t he the man who pushed a wheelbarrow across America? Or was he the chap who gave evidence in that murder trial last week?” And, feeling that in either case his readers will be interested in the fellow, he says: “The guests included … Mr. George Meredith and many others.” At the third stage the reporter knows at last who Mr. George Meredith is. Having seen an advertisement of one of his books, and being pretty sure that the public has read none of them, he refers to him as “Mr. George Meredith, the well-known novelist.” The fourth and final stage, beyond the reach of all but the favoured few, is arrived at when the reporter can leave the name to his public unticketed, and says again, “Among those present was Mr. George Meredith.”
The third stage is easy to reach–indeed, too easy. The “well- known actresses” are not Ellen Terry, Irene Vanbrugh and Marie Tempest, but Miss Birdie Vavasour, who has discovered a new way of darkening the hair, and Miss Girlie de Tracy, who has been arrested for shop-lifting. In the same way, the more the Press insists that a writer is “well-known,” the less hope will he have that the public has heard of him. Better far to remain at the second stage, and to flatter oneself that one has really arrived at the fourth.
But my friend Sidney Mandragon is, indeed, at the final stage now, for he had been “the well-known writer” for at least a dozen years previously. Of course, he has been helped by his name. Shakespeare may say what he likes, but a good name goes a long way in the writing profession. It was my business at one time to consider contributions for a certain paper, and there was one particular contributor whose work I approached with an awe begotten solely of his name. It was not exactly Milton, and not exactly Carlyle, and not exactly Charles Lamb, but it was a sort of mixture of all three and of many other famous names thrown in, so that, without having seen any of his work printed elsewhere, I felt that I could not take the risk of refusing it myself. “This is a good man,” I would say before beginning his article; “this man obviously has style. And I shouldn’t be surprised to hear that he was an authority on fishing.” I wish I could remember his name now, and then you would see for yourself.
Well, take Mr. Hugh Walpole (if he will allow me). It is safe to say that, when Mr. Walpole’s first book came out, the average reader felt vaguely that she had heard of him before. She hadn’t actually read his famous Letters, but she had often wanted to, and–or was that his uncle? Anyway, she had often heard people talking about him. What a very talented family it was! In the same way Sidney Mandragon has had the great assistance of one of the two Christian names which carry weight in journalism. The other, of course, is Harold. If you are Sidney or Harold, the literary world is before you.
Another hall-mark by which we can tell whether a man has arrived or not is provided by the interview. If (say) a Lepidopterist is just beginning his career, nobody bothers about his opinions on anything. If he is moderately well-known in his profession, the papers will seek his help whenever his own particular subject comes up in the day’s news. There is a suggestion, perhaps, in Parliament that butterflies should be muzzled, and “Our Representative” promptly calls upon “the well-known Lepidopterist” to ask what HE thinks about it. But if he be of an established reputation, then his professional opinion is no longer sought. What the world is eager for now is to be told his views on Sunday Games, the Decadence of the Theatre or Bands in the Parks.
The modern advertising provides a new scale of values. No doubt Mr. Pelman offers his celebrated hundred guineas’ fee equally to all his victims, but we may be pretty sure that in his business- like brain he has each one of them nicely labelled, a Gallant Soldier being good for so much new business, a titled Man of Letters being good for slightly less; and that real Fame is best measured by the number of times that one’s unbiased views on Pelmanism (or Tonics or Hair-Restorers) are considered to be worth reprinting. In this matter my friend Mandragon is doing nicely. For a suitable fee he is prepared to attribute his success to anything in reason, and his confession of faith can count upon a place in every full-page advertisement of the mixture, and frequently in the odd half-columns. I never quite understand why a tonic which has tightened up Mandragon’s fibres, or a Mind-Training System which has brought General Blank’s intellect to its present pitch, should be accepted more greedily by the man-in-the-street than a remedy which has only proved its value in the case of his undistinguished neighbour, but then I can never understand quite a number of things. However, that doesn’t matter. All that matters at the moment is that Mr. Sidney Mandragon has now achieved glory. Probably the papers have already pigeon-holed his obituary notice. It is a pleasing thought.