Cease To Be Whirled About

It is in Budd Schulberg’s wonderful and underrated novelization of his time with F. Scott Fitzgerald, at the end of Scott’s sad and needless collapse, that Marcus Aurelius makes a sudden appearance.

“He heard the warning of Marcus Aurelius; cease to be whirled about; and of Baudelaire: ‘Pleasure consumes us, work strengthens us. Let us choose.’”

Fitzgerald, who was born 121 years ago yesterday, was a broken man at the time Schulberg wrote that passage—or rather he had broken himself, through drinking and profligacy. He was trying to make a little money in Hollywood writing movies, and Schulberg had been assigned to him as a sort of babysitter. He could see how brilliant Fitzgerald was, how like a lot of us, the man knew better, was trying to be better, but couldn’t quite get it to work.

Fitzgerald was constantly whirled about and had been for years. Traveling from beautiful mansion to beautiful mansion, switching from project to project, infatuation to infatuation, choosing far too often, the wrong side of the fork that Baudelaire had posited. If only he had chosen earlier to strengthen himself with work…how much better he’d have been, how much more wonderful literature he would have left behind.

Let us make sure that we heed both warnings, of Marcus to cease to be whirled about and of Baudelaire, to be made stronger by the work we do.

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