LOS ANGELES, CALIF.
APRIL 1, 1950
Short only in relation to a full-length novel, the best of my stories are far too long to be included in this anthology. Of the absolutely short ones this "Tillotson Banquet" is probably as good as any. It was written nearly thirty years ago and is therefore an "early work." Indeed all my short stories are "early works"; for it is more than twenty years since I felt the urge to write any piece of fiction briefer than a novel.
Re-reading "The Tillotson Banquet", I am reminded nostalgically of that remote Inter-Cataclysmic Period between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Depression. It was an exciting time. Modern Art was still genuinely modern and not, as now, a stale academic tradition. One could still believe in the League of Nations and feel hopeful about the Russian Revolution. "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive." Every adolescent's emergence into adult life and contemporary culture is a blissful dawn. But at certain moments of history--moments of rapid disintegration and renewal--the bliss of adolescence and youth is more than ordinarily intense. In his earliest manhood, Wordsworth lived through such a moment of history. And so did those of us who were young in the twenties of the present century. But every dawn, whether personal or historical, is followed by morning and afternoon, by evening and finally night. The exhilaration of the Inter-Cataclysmic Period wore off and was succeeded by an awareness, during the thirties and forties, that the human situation was, in Waughian phraseology, "madly ungay."
The Tillotson of my story had no precise counterpart in real life. His predicament was suggested by that of Philip James Bailey who published Festus at twenty-three, was hailed on both sides of the Atlantic as a major philosophical poet, and died almost seventy years later, in 1906, universally unknown and totally forgotten. And in the background of the story hovers the ghost of Benjamin Robert Haydon. That unhappy painter, who possessed all the characteristics of a great genius except talent, has haunted my imagination ever