Last night I dreamt I wrote Light Shining In Buckinghamshire. My version was completely different to the original – an anonymous Digger tract of 1648 – though it was written in archaic prose and contained a plethora of commas. Indeed, it contained many, many more commas than I would ever be likely to deploy, all things considered, when acting in the waking world, so much duller, most of the time, than the phantasmal world of sleep, and by acting, of course, I mean writing, the act of writing, in prose, with commas, but, boy oh boy, not half as many commas as I, or rather the dream me, managed to pack in, furiously, so many they were tripping each other up, almost, in Light Shining In Buckinghamshire, the dream version. That sentence may be grammatically compromised, but that is the price you pay for a plethora of commas.
My text was hand-written, and it was clear, or dream-clear, that it would remain as an edition of one. Nevertheless, I got the strong impression that my Light Shining In Buckinghamshire was considered by readers to be the best thing I had ever written. I am not sure how I gained this impression, but, you know, dreams are dreams. It is a pity, then, that I cannot remember, in the waking world, a single word of the text. All I recall is the archaic prose and those damned commas.
I am now planning to pay a visit to Buckinghamshire, and to study the light, and to make copious notes on the light in my pocketbook with my propelling pencil and then, upon my return from Buckinghamshire, to parlay those notes into a piece of majestic prose, hand-written, in an edition of one. I will let you know when I am done, and you may make an appointment to come and read it.
This is a shining example of the ‘punctuation as person from Porlock’ phenomenon. Just imagine what havoc an apostrophe or semi-colon might have wreaked in this situation!
Mr. De Quincey liked commas too, for example:
“Such cases remind one too forcibly of the pretty Horatian tale, where, in a contest between two men who undertake to mimic a pig’s grunting, he who happens to be the favourite of the audience is applauded to the echo for his felicitous execution, and repeatedly encored, whilst the other man is hissed off the stage, and well kicked by a band of amateurs and cognoscenti, as a poor miserable copyist and impostor; but, unfortunately for the credit of his exploders, he has just time, before they have quite kicked him off, for exposing to view the real pig concealed under his cloak, which pig it was, and not himself, that had been the artist – forced by pinches into ‘mimicry’ of his own porcine music.”
I believe that erstwhile teen-pop sensation and sometime street cleaner Boy George was able to disguise himself at will as a bewildering variety of punctuation symbols, hence his nickname: “Comma Chameleon”.