Starry with a name not of his own making, he came into the world sporting a face everyone had already seen. Those sanguine eyes, those nasty nostrils, that snobbish snot: yes, that was sir’s baby. Laurelled with prizes he could —and need—never win for himself, repetitious when he had not yet spoken, the son of the famous man strutted before he crawled and was pissed before he had had a drop. When he came into his own, it had already been someone else’s; his nest, like his cap, is still feathered with paternal plumage. He was fated to become the image of his old man in everything save originality: what was art in the first became drear diary with the second.
Esquiredom, too, can seem hereditary. Although his blood is common, the son of the famous man trails his coat as if it were lordly with ermine. When he says who he is, we are expected to grant that he is somebody, even if what he is full of is not himself. The father’s achievements redeemed a mundane name; the son pronounces it as if it were itself an achievement. How dotingly savage of the parent to baptise his infant with a pretentious Christian name! The chosen polysyllables both lent prefixed grandeur to a tradesman’s style and made sure that the boy would be mordantly bullied. When Maximilian—let us say—was simplified to Max, was it in the hope that self-mutilation would avert the bloods or in the brief belief that what was short might also seem sweet?
The boy may have acquired his morgue from his sire, but he left behind the salt to give it savour. Heir to a horse which will always be higher than he is, he condescends from a pedestal that towers above him. Wanting no nastier weapons than the ones a splenetic parent employed against him, the hurt child plucked the darts from his own wounds and has been firing them at others ever since. Like corks from a dated popgun, his ancestral ammunition has strings attached so that it can be used again. His own bruises make him merciless; a burnt child longs to toast his friends. He fears that no one will ever suffer as cruelly and undeservedly as he did, though he longs to see them do so. Having endured a tyrant (stories of whose greed supply both bread…