Haydn Seek

In New English Review Dalrymple wonders about the relative importance of talent and kindness, and the concept of the evil genius, and is grateful for men like Haydn:
If [a particular] journalist’s disdain for subordinates were habitual rather than occasional – as my eye-witness, who met him on several occasions, suggested that it was – then his professions of egalitarianism were insincere. But even this would not prove that egalitarianism were wrong, only that he did not truly believe in it. The work is distinct from the man.
It is this distinction that assists the talented in their career of bad behaviour (if they exhibit it). For it is likely that they believe that their work is of great importance for humanity, greater importance at any rate than that of many men; so that their reputation finally relies on their work rather than on their conduct. That being the case, they have more leeway than others to behave badly.
Moreover, the difference between the significance of the work and conduct is likely to increase with time, at least if the work survives the death of its author. If it were to be shown conclusively from impeccable sources that Shakespeare had been a villain all his life, it would hardly affect our estimation of his work at all. A man can be a sublime artist but an unattractive figure, and in the long run it is the former that counts.
I was faced with this problem once when I was writing about Arthur Koestler, a man whose work and intellectual capacity and vigour I greatly admire. He might not have been right about everything, but he was dull about nothing. Yet it was revealed, and widely accepted, that in his private life he had behaved reprehensibly, even criminally, towards woman. When I read him now, the word ‘Rapist’ echoes through my mind. What weight was I to put on his behaviour in the assessment of his work?

One thought on “Haydn Seek

  1. Malik

    Another brilliant article by Dalrymple.

    I thoroughly appreciate that we are allowed access to his works for free when such beautiful craftsmanship and high philosophical vigor could easily merit each individual piece to be sold for a ‘pretty penny’.

    His works are truly ambrosia for the soul.


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