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James Branch Cabell (1879 – 1958)


American author of satirical fantasy works, most notably the series known as Biography of the Life of Manuel.
James Branch Cabell
I am amazed that this remarkable and original talent has been at America's service for nearly twenty years, its patient waiting entirely unrewarded whether by the public or the critics or even the superior cranks.
Let it be said at once that Cabell's art will always be a sign for hostilities. Not only will he remain, in all probability, forever alien to the general public, but he will also, I suspect, be to the end of time a cause for division among cultivated and experienced readers. His style is also at once a battleground. It is the easiest thing in the world to denounce it as affected, perverse, unnatural, and forced. It would be at once an artificial style were it not entirely natural to the man.
Cabell quotes
At what cost, now, may one attempt to write perfectly of beautiful happenings?
Cabell
I had not been two weeks in the United States before someone said to me: "Well, at any rate, there is Cabell." That was a new name to me. I was given Beyond Life to read. My excitement during the discovery of that perverse and eloquent testament was one of the happiest moments of my American stay. I spent then a wild and eccentric search after his earlier masterpieces. Inside the cover of Beyond Life there were the titles of no less than fourteen books. I could see from the one which I held in my hand that Mr. Cabell was no careless writer. He had been writing then for many years and he was unobtainable! "No, he has never had any success," a bookseller told me. "No one ever asks for his books."
That situation is now changed. There are, I imagine, a great many more persons in the United States of America asking for Jurgen than are likely to obtain it. That good, at any rate, an idiotic censorship has done.




Cabell James Branch quotes
The man was not merely very human; he was humanity. And I reflected that it is only by preserving faith in human dreams that we may, after all, perhaps some day make them come true.
Cabell James Branch
Cabell's Biography of Manuel had been structured as parallel examinations of three contrasting modes of life, the Way of the Artist, the Way of Chivalry, and the Way of Gallantry. Cabell's personal "picture" of gallantry is said to have derived from the phony chivalry of late 19th century Virginians, which he imbibed with his mother's milk, his family being respectably connected to the upper crust of Virginian aristocracy. ... The models he cites, however, are the gallants of Restoration Comedy ... Mark Twain, fascinated by the chivalric ideal, was quite taken with Cabell's writings on the subject. His encouragement directed to Cabell resulted in Domnei, published in 1911 as The Soul of Melicent. ... in both The Silver Stallion and in his explications, Cabell conceptualizes the progressive vitiation of the Life as a matter of the blurring of the realities of person and place by the remove of time and the world's will to be deceived, and the work of the cosmic Romancer.
James Branch Cabell quotes
I quite fixedly believe the Wardens of Earth sometimes unbar strange windows, that face on other worlds than ours. And some of us, I think, once in a while get a peep through these windows. But we are not permitted to get a long peep, or an unobstructed peep, nor very certainly, are we permitted to see all there is out yonder. The fatal fault, sir, of your theorizing is that it is too complete. It aims to throw light upon the universe, and therefore is self-evidently moonshine. The Wardens of Earth do not desire that we should understand the universe, Mr. Kennaston; it is part of Their appointed task to insure that we never do; and because of Their efficiency every notion that any man, dead, living, or unborn, might form as to the universe will necessarily prove wrong.
James Branch Cabell
You touch on a disheartening truth. People never want to be told anything they do not believe already.
Cabell James Branch quotes
I seem to see only the strivings of an ape reft of his tail, and grown rusty at climbing, who has reeled blunderingly from mystery to mystery, with pathetic makeshifts, not understanding anything, greedy in all desires, and always honeycombed with poltroonery. So in a secret place his youth was put away in exchange for a prize that was hardly worth the having; and the fine geas which his mother laid upon him was exchanged for the common geas of what seems expected.
Cabell
The transfiguring touch was to come, it seemed from a girl's lips; but it had not; he kissed, and life remained uncharmed. ...at the bottom of his heart, he was still expecting the transfiguring touch to come, some day, from something he was to obtain or do, perhaps to-morrow.... Then he had by accident found out the sigil's power...
Cabell James Branch
Dreaming a dream to prize,
Is wishing ghosts to rise;
And, if I had the spell
To call the buried well,
Which one would I?
James Branch Cabell
The insect looked at Jurgen, and its pincers rose erect in horror. The bug cried to the three judges, Now, by St. Anthony! this Jurgen must forthwith be relegated to limbo, for he is offensive and lewd and lascivious and indecent.
And how can that be? says Jurgen.
You are offensive, the bug replied, because this page has a sword which I chose to say is not a sword. You are lewd because that page has a lance which I prefer to think is not a lance. You are lascivious because yonder page has a staff which I elect to declare is not a staff. And finally, you are indecent for reasons of which a description would be objectionable to me, and which therefore I must decline to reveal to anybody.




James Branch Cabell quotes
Nothing ... nothing in the universe, is of any importance, or is authentic to any serious sense, except the illusions of romance. For man alone of animals plays the ape to his dreams. These axioms poor, deaf and blinded spendthrift! are none the less valuable for being quoted.
James Branch Cabell
I shall never of my own free will expose the naked soul of Manuel to anybody. No, it would be no pleasant spectacle, I think: certainly, I have never looked at it, nor did I mean to. Perhaps, as you assert, some power which is stronger than I may some day tear all masks aside: but this will not be my fault, and I shall even then reserve the right to consider that stripping as a rather vulgar bit of tyranny.
Cabell quotes
I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter except to show how very dull we are...
Cabell James Branch
Life is a pageant that passes very quickly, going hastily from one darkness to another darkness with only ignes fatui to guide; and there is no sense in it. I learned that, Kerin, without moiling over books. But life is a fine ardent spectacle; and I have loved the actors in it: and I have loved their youth and high-heartedness, and their ungrounded faiths, and their queer dreams, my Kerin, about their own importance and about the greatness of the destiny that awaited them, while you were piddling after, of all things, the truth!
Cabell James Branch quotes
Religion, of course, assured him that the answer to his query was, in various books, explicitly written, in very dissimilar forms. But Kennaston could find little to attract him in any theory of the universe based upon direct revelations from heaven. Conceding that divinity had actually stated so-and-so, from Sinai or Delphi or Mecca, and had been reported without miscomprehension or error, there was no particular reason for presuming that divinity had spoken veraciously: and, indeed all a available analogues went to show that nothing in nature dealt with its inferiors candidly.
James Branch Cabell
It is true I have not told you everything. Why should I? No Author ever does.... With Felix Kennaston or, if you prefer it so, with Horvendile, rests safe this secret and peculiar knowledge as to how the life of Manuel may yet repair to it's first home after some seven centuries of exile. Thus will the traveller return by and by to the place of his starting; the legend of the second coming of the Redeemer will be justified, in, at all events, my lesser world; and the tale to Manuel's life will have come again, as it did once beside the pool of Haranton, full circle.
James Branch Cabell quotes
The Cabell novels are ordinarily anything but grim. He is essentially a comic writer, and those who have placed him in the lineage of Boccaccio, Rabelais, Petronious Arbiter, Laurence Sterne are generally correct. Mr. Cabell is amused by the world; his novels are constructed upon that amusement. If the laughter seems sardonic sometimes, when the absurdities of his people seem only too recognizable to us, then we must remember that Mr. Cabell considers that amusing too.
James Branch Cabell
This book did not get for me any general recognition. It got for me, instead, something in every way more valuable. For it was The Cream of the Jest which first made for me in the seventeenth year of my writing, a few warm friends who but a little later were to fight in my behalf very nobly, and with wholly heroic tenacity... If few writers have met with more smug, more prurient, or more disingenuous opponents, no writer whatever, I think has found more faithful allies.
Cabell James Branch
I agree with Freydis that, for various reasons, nobody ever, quite, knew Manuel well.
The hero of "The Silver Stallion" is, thus, no person, but an idea, an idea presented at the moment of its conception... I mean, of course, the idea that Manuel, who was yesterday the physical Redeemer of Poictesme, will by and by return as his people's spiritual Redeemer.


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