Amused Authors

Do you know who Horace Smith is? by Grayson Cole
March 29, 2009, 3:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I do. A 19th century writer, Horace Smith has been outshined in literary history by many of his contemporaries. A brilliant fellow and incredibly funny, Smith was also a practical guy. Number five of eight kids, he made his money as a stockbroker rather than a writer and I find that I identify with him moreso than the guy that made him famous.

Horace is probably best known as the guy who rivaled his good friend Percy Bysshe Shelley in a writing competition about the inscription on the base of a statue found in Egypt. The pair wrote the following poems.

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.” The City’s gone,
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.
We wonder, and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

—Horace Smith

Nicely written, entirely forgettable. Here is Shelley’s poem, Ozymandias:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

–Percy Bysshe Shelley

I can feel the difference in these poems not just in my mind but in my body as I read them. You may not feel this way, but while the first is nice, it doesn’t stick with me. I can recite parts of Ozymandias, but the other one always escapes me (I’ll tell you its title in just a moment). The first seems to be about a statue. The second is about mankind and hubris and the passage of time. One is straightforward, the other is deliberate, taking time even in short lines to offer description that serves the purpose, that create a moment and an ideal rather than tunnel through the plot.

I love language and words. I like to play with them much the way Shelley likes to stay in meter but break sentences across lines. When I’m writing, I don’t start out by trying to “say” something. I start out by writing and it’s like Christmas when a theme or undercurrent appears. I recently had someone read something for me where a turn of phrase was recommended to be removed. I knew without a shadow of doubt at that moment, the reader had no idea what the subtext was in the story. I felt horrible because I hadn’t done my job. I had failed in having “the lone and level sands” stretching far away equal the passage of time… at least in any obvious way.

That failure makes me question my writing style and whether I’m accessible enough or not. I ask: why can’t I just write sometihng simple and easy to process like half of the pieces I come across, that are popular, that everyone gets and consumes and… forgets. But I get over it. I get over the fact that my style tends to not quite fit with a lot of what’s available because I remember my good friend Horace Smith.

Horace was a good guy and a good writer. But he wasn’t a great writer. He was funny and sharp but hardly anyone, at least in the States, remembers him for anything other than losing to a poem written in a moment of genius. In the way I live life, I identify with Horace, in writing, I’d rather be like Shelley. Take this as a pat on the back if you feel like you’re not quite fitting in. Percy Bysshe Shelley is now described on Wikipedia to have been “much-denigrated” during his lifetime and yet, his work is studied in school and referenced in art.

One other note about Horace Smith, he became popular when he and his brother wrote parodies of the writing styles of some of the better known writers of their time, like Byron and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Again, he was brilliant and funny but what was great about this work was how well he imitated poets that had truly created something and spoke in unique and lasting voices.

The name he settled on for the poem that rivaled Ozymandias? On A Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below. I told you he was funny.

So what do you think? Are you an author sometimes wondering if your style fits in with what else is out there. Do you deal in subtext or consider yourself an artist?

My upcoming new release is a contemporary romance and there is no subtext. It’s straightforward, not-Shelley worthy, but fun and heart-warming. It’s completey accessible. I enjoyed writing it, I hope others will enjoy reading it. But, I know if I were to die tomorrow, it’s not the work I’d be remembered for. So what does that mean? Am I part Smith and part Shelley? Am I wrong to even draw a comparison?

Grayson Reyes-Cole


6 Comments so far
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Thank you for this. I enjoyed reading through. Write the kind of stories you enjoy reading. Of course you should always strive to improve your writing, especially when people give you concrit, but writing is something that should be enjoyed, as much as holding the final product in your hands as the process of laying your dreams to words.

Comment by Nerine Dorman

Thank you Nerine. Excellent point. I truly enjoy being edited because I have a habit of running off with an idea or subject and forgetting to take readers with me. It’s an awful habit and I needed editors to help me tame that beast. I’ll never take editing and good feedback for granted. In fact there are some editors I’d like to thank for helping me control my urges. Kym Hinton, Helen Ravell, Gretchen Neeley, and Emma Porter to name those that have been the most influential.


Comment by graysonreyescole

To thine own self be true……. No truer words were ever written. And quite honestly I’d rather walk in Horace Smith’s shoes then PBS.

Comment by Aeryn Traxx

Thank you very much for coming by Aeryn! Horace had a pretty fine life, that’s for sure. A good living, lots of great friends, fanfare while he was alive, and a good relationship with his family. Who can ask for much more than that? He died at the ripe old age of 60 where Mr. Shelley was much reviled and died in a boating accident at the green young age of 30 (after allegedly meeting his doppelganger who foretold his death, by the way). But I do ask what your thoughts are on being remembered or not are? Hope you come back to the blog and chat about it!


Comment by graysonreyescole

I believe that the only writing that sells is writing that comes from the writer’s heart and imagination. I’ve always loved genre fiction (SF, fantasy, horror) and that’s what I write. I have has minor success in
E-books, which is fine with me. At least I know a few people enjoy my work and that is gratifying. Although I write what I enjoy, I would not be happy if I thought my novels and short stories were unpublishable.

Comment by Joe Vadalma

Thanks for the insight, Joe. I think a lot of us feel the same way.

Comment by graysonreyescole

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