One Youth’s Literary Greatness

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There is nothing so deceptive and for all that so alluring as a good surface. The sea, when beheld in the warm sunlight of a summer’s day; the sky, blue in the faint and amber glimmer of an Autumn sun, are pleasing to the eye: but, how different the scene, when the wild anger of the elements has waked again the discord of Confusion, how different the ocean, choking with froth & foam, to the calm, placid sea, that glanced and rippled merrily in the sun.

This was written by a teenage James Joyce. His great biographer, Richard Ellman, writes:

The example may give heart to adolescents who are searching their own works for evidence of literary immortality, and not finding much.

I didn’t quote the essay in its entirety because my eyes were glazing over before I finished it, but regardless, if a 14 year-old could write like that today, few people, I think, would hesitate to proclaim her a genius. But Ellman seems to be implying that such writing was commonplace for children living in the English-speaking world at the turn of the 20th century; I’ve always wondered how different my early life would have been if I’d spent it with books instead of televisions and computers. I do know for sure that 14 year-old James Joyce had more talent in his pinky fingernail than the grownup author of these words has in his entire corporeal frame…


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