Paul Johnson


Brünnhilde was not conjured up in a glass of common gin

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Like many journalists, I can write anywhere and under any conditions. I honestly believe I could do an article in the middle of the street provided there was somebody to fend off the traffic. Certainly I could manage on the rim of Alfred Gilbert’s delightful Eros fountain in Piccadilly Circus. More impressive, to my mind, is Mozart’s ability to write bits of a violin concerto while playing a game of billiards. He wrote all five of his admirable exercises in this genre during a single summer, aged 19. While his opponent clicked off a long cannon he had time to jot down an entire cadenza. Rossini was, if anything, even more hard-boiled. I believe he composed his admirable aria ‘Di tanti palpiti’ in Tancredi during the time it took a saucepan of rice to boil. But then, he needed only 13 days to complete the entire orchestrated score of The Barber of Seville, still constantly performed nearly two centuries later. He was obviously a fast worker. How I love these prodigiously fertile and expeditious people.

All the same I have nothing against more fastidious operators, who need all kinds of special conditions before inspiration can be made to flow. No one could have been more prolific and speedy than Edgar Wallace. But he had to be wearing a silk dressing-gown, and his long white cigarette-holder, containing a Balkan Sobranie, had to be jutting out of his mouth at exactly the right angle to his chin (precisely the same as Roosevelt’s) before the characters would begin to stir in his mind. Another silk dressing-gown man was No