This was written in a white heat some years ago and probably is incomprehensible.

[A]t once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously — I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason — Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge.

Byron was wrong, it was the internet killed Keats. It kills the capability of "remaining content with half-knowledge" for long enough to get the feel of things in fog or dusk. We're all Coleridge now (your cell phone is the portable Person from Porlock). "Half-knowledge" has the taint of shrill ignorance in 2013, but that's not what Keats means in 1819 or whenever it was.

When you've gathered enough of life and all, as Shakespeare had, then you ought to let your mind go up and monkey in the branches, blow soap bubbles or skip stones over the lake of it, for once not having Google (or etymonline) open in one tab while you unspool your thought. It's what I love best in Stendhal and Pound, but that sort of writing can't be published honestly now. Once upon a time, being stuck in some small town without a decent library was apology enough for writing insights without footnotes.

I mean the ability to write purely in the mind because one is in a place inaccessible to research or any sort of fact-check. And that absence, as the author sits down to write his mind, explains the power and beauty of the writing. He lets his mind run and work across the landscape defined by what he remembers and how he feels remembering it. This is not an evasion; he knows he is doing this and reminds the reader of it. It was a then-possible way of expression.

You get a literal transcript of another mind, blind spots, biases, static and all. You can niggle the prose to death if you care to go dig up every reference now which he could not then. But only here, also, if you can set niggling aside for the moment, can you witness the pure dance of intellect. You can, from the page, inhale great thought like a bloom. You can commune with a skilled and fallible human mind, shamelessly unattached. Iron fact is supple and warm there, history's limber.

Let yourself overlook the flaws and gravel in the path that leads to it, for the sake of inhaling it pure for those few seconds you're in it. There's no other way in.

You can't do that intelligently anymore in the age of the internet. Write that way. Be vague about the dates and exact names. A reader who encounters that now is likely to regard it as a sign of laziness or chicanery. 


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