Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Why Blogs That Start Bully Begin to Slouch

This quote from Mark Twain may explain why blogs that start off well often are not kept up. It's about how practically everyone on the Quaker City ship on its way to Europe started the trip by journaling every night, and what happened next.

"The Writing School"

By 7 o'clock in the evening, dinner was about over; an hour's promenade on the upper deck followed; then the gong sounded and a large majority of the party repaired to the after cabin (upper), a handsome saloon fifty or sixty feet long, for prayers. The unregenerated called this saloon the "Synagogue."

The devotions consisted only of two hymns from the "Plymouth Collection," and a short prayer, and seldom occupied more than fifteen minutes. The hymns were accompanied by parlor organ music when the sea was smooth enough to allow a performer to sit at the instrument without being lashed to his chair.

After prayers the Synagogue shortly took the semblance of a writing-school. The like of that picture was never seen in a
ship before. Behind the long dining-tables on either side of the saloon, and scattered from one end to the other of the
latter, some twenty or thirty gentlemen and ladies sat them down under the swaying lamps, and for two or three hours wrote diligently in their journals. Alas! that journals so voluminously begun should come to so lame and impotent a conclusion as most of them did! I doubt if there is a single pilgrim of all that host but can show a hundred fair pages of journal concerning the first twenty days' voyaging in theQuaker City; and I am morally certain that not ten of the party can show twenty pages of journal for the succeeding twenty thousand miles of voyaging! At certain periods it becomes the dearest ambition of a man to keep a faithful record of his performances in a book; and he dashes at this work with an enthusiasm that imposes on him the notion that keeping a journal is the veriest pastime in the world, and the pleasantest. But if he only lives twenty-one days, he will find out that only those rare natures that are made up of pluck, endurance, devotion to duty for duty's sake, and invincible determination, may hope to venture upon so tremendous an enterprise as the keeping of a journal and not sustain a shameful defeat.

One of our favorite youths, Jack, a splendid young fellow with a head full of good sense, and a pair of legs that were a wonder to look upon in the way of length, and straightness, and slimness, used to report progress every morning in the most glowing and spirited way, and say: "Oh, I'm coming along bully!" (he was a little given to slang, in his happier moods,) "I wrote ten pages in my journal last night--and you know I wrote nine the night before, and twelve the night before that. Why it's only fun!"

"What do you find to put in it, Jack!"

"Oh, every thing. Latitude and longitude, noon every day; and how many miles we made last twenty-four hours; and all the domino-games I beat, and horse-billiards; and whales and sharks and porpoises; and the text of the sermon, Sundays; (because that'll tell at home, you know,) and the ships we saluted and what nation they were; and which way the wind was, and whether there was a heavy sea, and what sail we carried, though we don't ever carry any, principally, going against a head wind always--wonder what is the reason of that-and how many lies Moult has told--Oh, every thing! I've got every thing down. My father told me to keep that journal. Father wouldn't take a thousand dollars for it when I get it done."

"No, Jack; it will be worth more than a thousand dollars--when you get it done."

"Do you?-no, but do you think it will, though"

"Yes, it will be worth at least as much as a thousand dollars--when you get it done. May be, more."

"Well, I about half think so, myself. It ain't no slouch of a journal."

But it shortly became a most lamentable "slouch of a journal."

One night in Paris, after a hard day's toil in sight-seeing, I said: "Now I'11 go and stroll around the cafes awhile, Jack, and give you a chance to write up your journal, old fellow."

His countenance lost its fire. He said:

"Well, no, you needn't mind. I think I won't run that journal any more. It is awful tedious. Do you know--I reckon I'm as much as four thousand pages behind hand. I haven't got any France in it at all. First I thought I'd leave France out and start fresh. But that wouldn't do, would iti The governor would say, 'Hello, here--didn't see any thing in France.'' That cat wouldn't fight, you know. First I thought I'd copy France out of the guide-book, like old Badger in the for'rard cabin who's writing a book, but there's more than three hundred pages of it. Oh, I don't think a journal's any use-do you? They're only a bother, ain't they?" "Yes, a journal that is incomplete isn't of much use, but a journal properly kept, is worth a thousand dollars,--when you've got it done." "A thousand!--well I should think so. I wouldn't finish it for a million."

His experience was only the experience of the majority of that industrious night-school in the cabin. If you wish to inflict a heartless and malignant punishment upon a young person, pledge him to keep a journal a year.

[pages 32-34, Innocents Abroad: Roughing It, Literary Classics of the United States 1984 Viking Press]

I copied this out of the book when I was getting ready to go to Italy in 1999. Twain's description of St. Peter's set me up good.
Post a Comment