I am, once again, struck by a passage in George Moore’s Confessions of a Young Man, in which he notes of Balzac (the best advert for coffee I know of) that ‘he seems to me to have shown greater wings of mind than any writer that ever lived’.
‘Wings of mind’: what a marvellous phrase this is! It is hardly original – writers have long referred to thoughts as winged creatures – but it could not have been better put, or found in a more appropriate context. Balzac’s mind had so many wings: he could soar like an albatross, swoop like a swallow or hop from branch to branch like a foraging sparrow. He could even be a bat if need be. His was a mind which could twist and turn in any direction, at any speed. It could be clumsy, yes, but it was a graceful clumsiness. It was a clumsiness that knew what it was about – and where it was going.
Enough, however, of Balzac. What of our own minds? Do our thoughts fly, or have they (as I often feel myself) something of the ostrich about them? On some days, I sense that my mind is distinctly penguin: it waddles, slides and swims with the best of them, but will never take flight. On other days, I am as a wren trapped in a shed. I can get into the air without trouble – but where am I going? The ceiling is the limit; the sky no more accessible than the landscape in a painting. The wings of my mind, alas, are clipped.