Martin Eden HTML version

Chapter 14
It was not because of Olney, but in spite of Ruth, and his love for Ruth, that he
finally decided not to take up Latin. His money meant time. There was so much
that was more important than Latin, so many studies that clamored with
imperious voices. And he must write. He must earn money. He had had no
acceptances. Twoscore of manuscripts were travelling the endless round of the
magazines. How did the others do it? He spent long hours in the free reading-
room, going over what others had written, studying their work eagerly and
critically, comparing it with his own, and wondering, wondering, about the secret
trick they had discovered which enabled them to sell their work.
He was amazed at the immense amount of printed stuff that was dead. No light,
no life, no color, was shot through it. There was no breath of life in it, and yet it
sold, at two cents a word, twenty dollars a thousand - the newspaper clipping had
said so. He was puzzled by countless short stories, written lightly and cleverly he
confessed, but without vitality or reality. Life was so strange and wonderful, filled
with an immensity of problems, of dreams, and of heroic toils, and yet these
stories dealt only with the commonplaces of life. He felt the stress and strain of
life, its fevers and sweats and wild insurgences - surely this was the stuff to write
about! He wanted to glorify the leaders of forlorn hopes, the mad lovers, the
giants that fought under stress and strain, amid terror and tragedy, making life
crackle with the strength of their endeavor. And yet the magazine short stories
seemed intent on glorifying the Mr. Butlers, the sordid dollar-chasers, and the
commonplace little love affairs of commonplace little men and women. Was it
because the editors of the magazines were commonplace? he demanded. Or
were they afraid of life, these writers and editors and readers?
But his chief trouble was that he did not know any editors or writers. And not
merely did he not know any writers, but he did not know anybody who had ever
attempted to write. There was nobody to tell him, to hint to him, to give him the
least word of advice. He began to doubt that editors were real men. They
seemed cogs in a machine. That was what it was, a machine. He poured his soul
into stories, articles, and poems, and intrusted them to the machine. He folded
them just so, put the proper stamps inside the long envelope along with the
manuscript, sealed the envelope, put more stamps outside, and dropped it into
the mail-box. It travelled across the continent, and after a certain lapse of time
the postman returned him the manuscript in another long envelope, on the
outside of which were the stamps he had enclosed. There was no human editor
at the other end, but a mere cunning arrangement of cogs that changed the
manuscript from one envelope to another and stuck on the stamps. It was like the
slot machines wherein one dropped pennies, and, with a metallic whirl of
machinery had delivered to him a stick of chewing-gum or a tablet of chocolate. It
depended upon which slot one dropped the penny in, whether he got chocolate