“Permit me to inform you,” I said frankly and freely to the tax man—or high, respectable revenue official—who gave me his governmental ear in order to follow attentively the report I was about to deliver, “that I enjoy, as a poor writer or homme de lettres, a very dubious income.
“It is self-evident that you will not find in my case the tiniest bit of amassed fortune, as I here affirm with deep regret, without, however, shedding any tears over the unfortunate fact.
“Despair I do not, but just as little can I exult or rejoice. I generally get along as best I can, as they say.
“I dispense with all luxuries. A single glance at my person should tell you this. The food I eat can be described as sufficient and frugal.
“It apparently occurred to you to consider that I might have at my disposal many sources of income. I feel myself, however, compelled to oppose, courteously but decisively, this belief along with all such suppositions, and to tell the simple unadorned truth, which is, in any case, that I am extremely free from wealth, but, on the other hand, laden with every sort of poverty, as you might be so kind as to write in your notebook.
“On Sundays I may scarcely allow myself to be seen on the streets, for I have no Sunday clothes. In my steady, thrifty way of life I am like a field mouse. Even a sparrow seems to have better prospects of prosperity than thid deliverer of a report and taxpayer you see before you. I have written several books, which unfortunately were quite poorly received by the reading public, and the consequences of this oppress my heart. Not for a moment do I doubt that you understand this, and that you will consequently realize my peculiar financial situation.
“Ordinary civil status, civil esteem, etc. I by no means possess; that’s as clear as daylight. Toward men such as myself, no sense of obligation seems to exist. Exceedingly few persons profess a lively interest in literature. Besides, the pitiless criticism of our work, which any manjack thinks himself obliged to practice, constitutes yet another abundant hurt that, like a drag chain, drags down the aspirant accomplisher of a state of modest wellbeing.
“Certainly there exist amicable patrons and friendly patronesses, who subsidize the poet nobly from time to time. But a gift is far from being income, and a subsidy is surely no fortune.
“For all these I hope convincing reasons, most honored sir, I would request you kindly to overlook all the increases in taxation which you have communicated to me, and in God’s name to set your rate of taxation in my case at as low a level as possible.”
--Robert Walser, from The Walk, trans. by Christopher Middleton with Susan Bernofsky