Monday, July 31, 2017
Rex Stout and me in the clouds
Astonished as I am that I am not regularly quoted in the press and in everyday erudite conversation ("When you fire into a crowd you will kill someone you would not dream of hurting"), I am even more surprised that Rex Stout isn't ("We are all vainer of our luck than our merits"). While it is impossible for me to read through a play by Shakespeare without coming across some wildly famous saying that makes me cry out "Ha! This is where it's from!", it is equally impossible for me to read a Nero Wolfe novel without being compelled occasionally to stop everything and jot down some tossed off piece of genius from our narrator, Archie Griffin. Why the one is so famous that I know it, and the other so excellent that I am amazed I don't, seems purely a matter of chance, since as far as I can tell it has nothing to do with merit, both of them being roughly equal on that score.
In the last Nero Wolfe book I read there was this quote that I have been carrying around for awhile:
"No man should tell a lie unless he is shrewd enough to recognize the time for renouncing it, if and when it comes, and know how to renounce it gracefully."
Perhaps I find that so compelling because we as a people may have come to the ragged end of renouncing lies. And no quote is quite so compelling as one that seems to upbraid others.
I checked out a three story collection by Mr. Stout today. I saw a bit of the introduction in which there was much talk of what a terrific admirer Rex Stout was of Jane Austen. I can be happy enough with that. There is the lineage; from Jane Austen, to Rex Stout, to me. Whether that power waxes or wanes is for you alone to decide. No, that's a lie. I renounce it. It's downhill all the way. But I'm not put out. Even successively lower than the two, I can still see everything from up here.
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