6 FEBRUARY 1948, Page 12



LAST week, when discussing Mr. Bevin's parliamentary manner, I referred to the different habits of thinking which various in- dividuals adopt. I have been asked to say something more upon this subject. It would clearly take me beyond my depth, and in any case right outside the margins of this weekly article, were I to examine the art of thought or the theory of semantics. I do not know what makes people think, or even what is the meaning of meaning. All I know is that such things as cerebral habits, or Denkmethoden, do unquestionably exist, and that I have derived much interest from observing how these habits operate in people of different capacities, ages and education. It would be pretentious for me to attempt any classification or even, within this narrow margin, to differentiate between the objective and the subjective thinker. All I can do is to allude to certain variations which, either from reading or from personal observation, have remained in my memory. I shall not consider how far the child, or the wholly unsophisticated person, indulges in conscious thinking, or how far their thoughts are generated by symbols and images and are as such what Ogden and Richards have called " phantoms linguistically generated." Nobody can take part in an election, or even attend a public meeting, without realising the degree to which such phantoms acquire grades of significance and arouse definite responses (not of feeling only but of thought also) among mixed audiences. There are certain words and phrases which, owing to their linguistic refraction and the associations which they generate, can create, if not a thought, then at least an opinion. Hitler was well aware that the repetition of certain words and sounds and symbols could produce, not merely enraptured hysteria, but actual mass conviction. And even we in this still inviolate island, when listening on the wireless to the steam-saw screech of "Sieg Heil ! ", were conscious that a corporate will was being formed by this symbol, and not only a corporate lust for power. But I do not intend to discuss the effect upon the unsophisticated of word-signs and word-symbols ; I want to talk about the different habits of think- ing and working which I have noticed.

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. We all know that poets, artists, musicians and creative thinkers are aware of certain momentary intimations which they call "inspira- tion." There comes the sudden, and seemingly spontaneous, " emotion " which is thereafter recollected and elaborated in tran- quillity. This is no new conception ; it is as old as Aristotle. In his Apology, he defined the principle with considerable accuracy. " I have," he wrote, " come to this conclusion about poets. It is not by taking thought that they create what they create, but owing to a certain temperamental disposition and in a mood of ecstasy." All poets have confirmed this observation ; all truly creative thinkers are familiar with these sudden intimations. I referred last week to Thomas Hobbes' habit of taking an immediate note whenever " a thought darted." Byron, whose inspiration was of the impulsive variety, confessed -that he for his part was unable to recollect in tran- quillity the emotions which had occurred to him in his ecstatic moments ; if he failed in-his first spring, he would retire like a tiger growling to his jungle. A. E. Housman has recounted in detail the gap which is apt to occur between the initial " emotion " and the subsequent " recollection." He has told how a single line of a poem would dart across his mind spontaneously and without the slightest effort of volition on his own part ; and how it would thereafter take him weeks, and even months, to work this single line into a com- pleted poem. All creative writers are familiar with this process ; the muse touches them and then flits like a butterfly away ; this sudden abandonment is the cause of melancholy self-distrust which assails all creative artists. Since they are lonely and apart.

More familiar to me are the varied methods ,of thinking and work- ing which create patterns of habit for those writers who consort but rarely with the Muses, but for whom the act of thinking and writing is a daily task. I am speaking of hack-writers such as myself. These

writers also are subject to moods and variations ; but in addition they are subject to the discipline of time, they have to keep their eyes upon the clock. Not for them are those fallow days, those hours of unconscious cerebration, during which the slieve of inspiration can be re-knit. Their articles have got to catch the post. I am continually conscious of the enormous difference imposed upon one's habits of thinking and working by this element of time pressure. When I am writing a book I feel as free as a sea-gull ; I can flit and poise or float idly upon the waves of time. The book shapes itself silently within me, and at unexpected moments the theme of the book rises up into my consciousness and I become aware of new angles of interpretation and understanding, of sudden darts of illumination or intimation. Even when writing a book one has a certain sense of pressure, or rather of enclosure ; one is constantly aware of its presence within or beside one ; it is like the weight of a heavy pair of secateurs in the pocket. But it is an agreeable sense of enclosure ; a comfortable, comforting weight. It is not, as is an article, an iron band across the brow. I admit that the delight of having a book upon the stocks is sometimes marred by staleness and lassitude. If I am writing a novel, I often long for the easier tram-lines of a set biography ; if I am writing a biography, I frequently yearn for the free outlines of fiction. But the fact remains that to write a book is heaven, whereas to write an article, week in and week out, is often, but not always, hell.

What habits and what devices can one adopt to mitigate this discomfort? One would have supposed that every professional journalist had acquired from experience a certain standardised method of thinking and working. But this is not so. They all seem to work in different ways. There are those, and they are extremely pro- fessional, who can scribble an article in the train on the backs of envelopes. There are those again (and my admiration for them is boundless) who can compose an article under high pressure in a room full of other people talking. There are those again who cannot put pen to paper unless they have first recorded their ideas in tabulated headings upon a pad. I envy so industrious a system. There are some who seek to bring the blood to the brain by a resort to stimu- lants, and who will either imitate Balzac by resorting to copious drafts of strong coffee, or will foolishly seek to find inspiration in alcohol or benzedrine. I belong to the Trollope school. I have small confidence in receiving a visit from the Muses, even from Clio, before half-past four, when the post goes ; such confidence as I possess is concentrated upon the typewriter and the clock. These mechanisms are more compelling than any supernatural visitation ; the click of my own typewriter more stimulating than any aid which Dionysus might bring. Nor do I belong to the school which asserts that thoughts come more readily in the open air and when taking physical exercise ; nature in all her moods is an interruption, welcome but insistent. What I require to set the machine working is the-silence of my own room, the feel of my own chair and table, the white paper, the typewriter and the lamp. It is useful, moreover, to have at one's disposal a few carefully selected works of reference. It is astonishing what a good dictionary can do to give to an article a touch of erudition.

* * * * Behind all these habits and devices a gaunt spectre lurks. The words come easily enough ; the. physical labour is not exacting ; the images and metaphors dart round like swallows; but as the week rapidly revolves the spectre assumes its leaden shape. "But what," it asks, and in a tone as sepulchral as the secret voice in Twenty Questions, " but what this week are you going, to write about? " Anyhow, this week I have written my article about writing articles. I have written about Die Denkmethoden and ihre Gefahrerz. It is indeed dangerous to write weekly articles. Since we have only one reservoir and weekly articles cause it to leak.