I’ve been reading with great delight the just-published first volume of Mark Twain’s Autobiography. About a hundred pages in, there is this wonderful description of the man who suckered Twain out of many thousands of dollars over a decade and a half by getting him to invest in a never-to-be-functional typesetting machine.
I will remark, here, that James W. Paige, the little bright-eyed, alert, smartly dressed inventor of the machine, is a most extraordinary compound of business thrift and commercial insanity; of cold calculation and jejune sentimentality; of veracity and falsehood; of fidelity and treachery; of nobility and baseness; of pluck and cowardice; of wasteful liberality and pitiful stinginess; of solid sense and weltering moonshine; of towering genius and trivial ambitions; of merciful bowels and a petrified heart; of colossal vanity and— But there the opposites stop. His vanity stands alone, sky-piercing, as sharp of outline as an Egyptian monolith.
This description put me in mind of a certain character—a novice poet, prolific penner of book reviews, and toiler in the trenches of academe. He drops names like confetti and enjoys touting the vast variety of his interests, the bulk of which exist in the pages of books favored by other denizens of the Ivoride Tower. His personal motto is a phrase borrowed from a famous Roman bisexual and which he prefers to flaunt in the original Latin: odi et amo. (It means “I hate and I love” and is sometimes mistaken for Catullus’s profoundest thought.) In a narrow sense it’s the perfect motto for this character I have in mind: He hates the talent other people possess and loves the sound of his own voice. The monolith mentioned by Twain is one this guy would recognize, if only he could sacrifice his desire to vanquish his opponents in favor of even a little self-scrutiny.
I would dearly love to name the fellow I’m talking about, but I think it best to follow Twain’s lead and leave it for my autobiography, which I expect to be published a hundred years after my death.