There is a librarian who, on seeing me, is fond of yelling out, “Frank” in the Liverpudlian accept of the title character in the film Educating Rita. I find this charming. What’s more, I would only be too delighted to think of myself as the erudite and emotionally wounded Frank Bryan. I’ve always been fond of his big plunge into the dark side, and his vicious comment, “Found a culture, have you Rita? Found a better song to sing? No, you found a different song to sing, and on your lips it’s shrill and hollow and tuneless.”
What a cruel remark. But also: how true. At least, I always thought so.
This evening, I was reading William Hazlitt’s The Pleasure of Hating, a collection of essays, including that for which the book is titled. And Hazlitt is nothing so much as a revaluation. First, he is a wonderful writer. As a 19th century British essayist, he commonly writes thousand word paragraphs. This is such a delight in a time when most magazines will only accept stories that are less than 2000 words. But more than the pure joy of the writing, Hazlitt is a radical thinker—both in his time and ours.
I have a new hero. And you are likely to hear much more about this great man from me.
Reading through these essays in an almost religious ecstasy, a thought came crashing into my mind: you are not Frank. Frank Bryan, that is. Certainly, I accept this song that I now sing is in no objective sense better than the song I was born to. But that isn’t the point. It is a matter of perspective. For Bryan, this was the song he was born to. For Rita and me, it is a song we’ve worked very hard to sing in key. Love is never objective, but that doesn’t make it any less fundamental. And those who feel that our song is shrill and hollow and tuneless have sunk to the point where all songs sound that way.
Here he could be writing about Frank Bryan, but then, I expect that Hazlitt knew more than a few of them:
I marked this one because I thought it worthy of Dorothy Parker:
There is no question that Hazlitt liked the plays of Shakespeare very much. However, if people today were as broad minded on this subject, I would never feel the need to complain about That Bard:
The essay itself is an indictment of the writer and the reader: