Charles, who had been wandering round in his room for ages and humming to himself, finally came down. Fortunately it was only eleven o’clock. A true Parisian, he had taken as much pains over his dress as though he had been in the castle of the noble lady who was traveling in Scotland. He came in with that affable, smiling manner so becoming to the young, and it made Eugénie feel both sad and happy. He had taken the destruction of his castles in Anjou as a good joke, and greeted his aunt gaily.
—Eugénie Grandet, Honoré de Balzac
It’s a little idolatrous and self-indulgent for a human being to tap his fingers on a keyboard and write—the act of pressing even a single button bellows, like a man waving his own flag on a battlefield torn with smoke, that so-and-so is a creator, and worthy of the company of Balzac. That so-and-so must take care, a bullet may pierce his breast, since there is nothing modest about the universes bubbling up from the untold riches of a good paragraph, or what so-and-so claims to be a good paragraph.
Reading is a nobler pursuit. When I read that paragraph of Balzac and delighted in its plainly-spoken beauty and knowledge I became a student bowed in the presence of a master; writing, on the other hand, may be a declaration that I have surpassed him and that he, of all people, could learn from me, when it’s obvious to anyone that the sheer mountain of soaring cliffs I quoted at the beginning of this post can never be climbed by the stubby little legs of these tumbling thoughts.
So I think that to attempt to devour his beauty may be a more creative act than the act of creation itself, which is the equivalent of saying that someone who goes wild squeezing the scattered ecstasies of a good pecan pie from his tongue is a better chef than a bumbling baker who doesn’t know his nuts from his spatula. It’s the opposite of skimming; if beauty is to be tasted, it must be tasted deeply, therefore I’d like to leap into that literary mud up to my hips and wallow in it like an old workhorse.
This is the only way I have any hope of learning from it, mimicking it, and mixing it in with the ingredients from other authors separated by centuries, lands, and languages, but united on a good bookshelf—a place where muses sleep with reveries—and perhaps also united by a good writer.