Ian Watt


I am, of course, immensely flattered to be invited here, and for many reasons. As Horace Walpole said about the unexpected success of The Castle of Otranto, "It is charming to totter into vogue." It is particularly charming because it lends credibility to the hypothesis of my continuing survival, which is not universally accepted: not long ago I fell into conversation with a student at Berkeley, and when, on parting, I told him my name, he answered with genuine astonishment: "Oh, I thought you were dead." A third reason, no doubt, is that I cannot claim to be wholly a stranger to what Johnson said about Richardson: that he "could not be content to sail quietly down the stream of reputation without longing to taste the froth from every stroke of the oar." My original difficulty in deciding whether to come and, if so, what to talk about arose partly from a sense of decorum which told me that I should not be observed visibly to agitate the stream of reputation myself; and yet this is what Paul Hunter in effect has asked me to do. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that I don't want to repeat an earlier solicited transgression in the self-congratulation line, an essay called "Serious Reflections on The Rise of the Novel."