Everyone has his or her own way of accepting a compliment. “Aw shucks” is good. “Thank you, sugar,” works for a certain sort of recipient. “Thanks for your kind words” is what an older writer once responded to a fan letter I had sent. His response had at once a sort of warmth and yet an arm’s-length formality that I decided to adopt should the occasion ever arise.

“Thank you for your kind words.”

Well, now comes Joseph Conrad — not literally, of course, but in 1920, four years before he died — with a turn of phrase that puts the rest of us to shame. I mean, gee whiz — English wasn’t even his first language. (Born Josef Teodor Konrad Walecz Korzeniowski in Poland in 1857, he wrote everything, including Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness, in English, his second language.)

To a gushing fan he wrote . . .

“I do not know when I shall depart on my last journey, and still less do I know what will be my destination, but you may be sure that if St. Peter shows any reluctance to open the door I shall use your name without scruple.”

Now, that’s a thank-you note.



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