Of all the bête, clumsy, blundering, boggling, baboon-blooded stuff I ever saw on a human stage...
Insults of Note
As the old saying goes: “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. And then put all that negative stuff in a letter.”
Of all the bête, clumsy, blundering, boggling, baboon-blooded stuff I ever saw on a human stage, that thing last night beat—so far as the acting and story went—and of all the affected, sapless, soulless, beginningless, endless, topless, bottomless, topsiturviest, tuneless, scrannelpipiest, tongs and boniest doggerel of sounds I ever endured the deadliness of, that eternity of nothing was the deadliest, so far as the sound went. I never was so relieved, so far as I can remember, in my life, by the stopping of any sound—not excepting railway whistles—as I was by the cessation of the cobbler’s bellowing.
John Ruskin on Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg
Letter to Georgiana Burne-Jones
30th June 1882
Here are Johnny Keats’s piss-a-bed poetry… No more Keats, I entreat:—flay him alive; if some of you don’t, I must skin him myself. There is no bearing the drivelling idiotism of the manikin.
Lord Byron on John Keats
Letter to John Murray
12th October 1820
Miserable stuff, a complete fake, you ought to debunk that pale porpoise and his plush vulgarities some day.
Vladimir Nabokov on Henry James
Letter to Edmund Wilson
I HATED the Salinger story. It took me days to go through it, gingerly, a page at a time, and blushing with embarrassment for him every ridiculous sentence of the way. How can they let him do it? That horrible self-consciousness, every sentence comments on itself and comments on itself commenting on itself, and I think it was actually supposed to be funny. And if the poems were so good, why not just give us one or two and shut up, for God’s sake?
Elizabeth Bishop on J. D. Salinger’s Seymour: An Introduction
Letter to Pearl Kazin
9th September 1959
The opening Allegro took me straight back to childhood and gave me in turn the rusty windlass of a well, the interlinking noises of a goods train that is being shunted, then the belly-rumblings of a little boy acutely ill after a raid on an orchard, and finally the singular alarmed noise of poultry being worried to death by a Scotch terrier.
The second movement gave me continuously and throughout its short length the noise of a November wind in telegraph poles on a lonely country road.
The third movement began with a dog howling at midnight, proceeded to imitate the regurgitations of the less-refined or lower-middle-class type of water-closet cistern, modulating thence into the mass snoring of a Naval dormitory around the dawn - and concluded inconsequently with the cello reproducing the screech of an ungreased wheelbarrow.
The fourth movement took me straight back to the noises I made myself, on wet days indoors, at the age of six, by stretching and plucking a piece of elastic.
Alan Dent on Bartók's Fourth Quartet
Letter to James Agate
26th November 1945
How blessed are they who are born deaf, and are spared the agony of listening to the hideous sounds of Symphony No. 3 by Roy Harris, just performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Roy Harris should have stuck to truck driving instead of insulting music-lovers with his senseless noise.
A reader on Roy Harris’ Symphony No. 3
Letter to Radio Times
12th June 1942
My God, what a clumsy olla putrida [a Spanish stew—literal translation: “rotten pot”] James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage-stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest, stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness—what old and hard worked staleness, masquerading as the all-new!
D. H. Lawrence on James Joyce
Letter to Aldous Huxley
15th August 1928
You may love your husband very much, but you should face the fact that he has no talent.
Rebecca West on Roberto Rossellini
Letter to Ingrid Bergman
10th March 1953
See also: When musical men get angry
Photo of someone pointing a thumb downward, via Getty.