He [i.e., Lactantius] delighted in writing, in the joinery and embellishment of his sentences*, in the consciousness of high rare virtue when every word had been used in its purest and most precise sense, in the kitten games of syntax and rhetoric. Words could do anything except generate their own meaning.
–Evelyn Waugh, Helena (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012), Nook edition, chap. 6, p. 8.
*It is interesting to note that Waugh took some classes in carpentry before his literary career began in earnest†, and that, toward the end of that career, he answered an interviewer’s question about his motive for being a writer by saying, ‘It’s just my trade.’
† From a piece originally published in Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine, March 1937:
My next plan was to be a carpenter, and for a winter I went regularly to classes in a government polytechnic. Those were delightful days, under the tuition of a brilliant and completely speechless little cabinet-maker who could explain nothing and demonstrate everything. To see him cutting concealed dovetails gave me the thrill which, I suppose, others get from seeing their favourite batsman at the wicket or bull fighter in the ring. It was a charming class too. There was one young woman who, during the whole time I was there, was engaged in sawing longways an immense log of teak. She worked and worked at it hour by hour and had cut about a yard when I left. I often wonder if she is still at it. There were two Egyptians who did veneering of exquisite skill and the most atrocious designs conceivable. I never got as far as veneering curved surfaces, but I made an indestructible mahogany bed-table, which I gave to my father, and which survived the fire.
It soon became apparent, however, that it would be many years before I should qualify for a wage, and then for a few shillings a week. That did not worry me, but I had an inclination to get married, so I looked for more remunerative work. […]
Dickens held it against his parents that they tried to force him into a blacking factory instead of letting him write. The last firm at which I solicited a job was engaged, among other things, in the manufacture of blacking. I pleaded desperately. If I wasn’t employed there I should be driven to Literature. But the manager was relentless. It was no use my thinking of blacking. That was not for the likes of me. I had better make up my mind and settle down to the humble rut which fate had ordained for me. I must write a book.
The value of writing books is that it gives one a market for articles. So here I am, pen poised indecisively over the foolscap, earning my living.
But I am not utterly enslaved. I still have dreams of shaking off the chains of creative endeavour. Rimbaud got away from it and became a gun runner. Vanbrugh gave up writing plays to build the most lovely houses in England. Disraeli and A. P. Herbert went into politics and did themselves proud. John Buchan is lording it in Quebec. Boulestin took to cooking. Perhaps there is a chance of freedom.
–Evelyn Waugh, ‘General Conversation: Myself . . .’, collected in A Little Order, ed. Donat Gallagher (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977), 28-29.