Among his examples and connections, he mentioned something that Joel Achenbach (one of my favorite journalists) said that John McPhee (who is a true god of prose) had taught him at Princeton, an exercise in cutting needless words. One of the sample passages McPhee had them try to cut without sacrificing meaning or style was from Heart of Darkness, so I was all the more into it because I am a self-admitted Conrad freak and tend to think that Conrad is to the modern English-language novel as Shakespeare is to English-language drama.
This stirred up the Usual Suspects with whom I enjoy hanging out and arguing, and one of them, marcdcyr, quoted an odd, interesting passage from That Conrad Novel Whose Name Is Inexcusably Rude Nowadays (and which is increasingly referred to as Children of the Sea, Conrad's title for the first American publication). Just at the beginning of the stormy voyage that is going to kill the title character (and reveal a whole lot of interesting things about power relations, empathy, humanity, and the bonds that reach-or-don't between human beings), before anything gets started, the narrator observes a probably-not-very-educated seaman reading Bulwer-Lytton's Pelham*:
"The popularity of Bulwer Lytton in the forecastles of Southern-going ships is a wonderful and bizarre phenomenon. What ideas do his polished and so curiously insincere sentences awaken in the simple minds of the big children who people those dark and wandering places of the earth? What meaning can their rough, inexperienced souls find in the elegant verbiage of his pages? Mystery! Is it the fascination of the incomprehensible? -- is it the charm of the impossible? Or are those beings who exist beyond the pale of life stirred by his tales as by an enigmatical disclosure of a resplendent world that exists within the frontier of infamy and filth, within that border of dirt and hunger, of misery and dissipation, that comes down on all sides to the water's edge of the incorruptible ocean, and is the only thing they know of life, the only thing they see of surrounding land -- those life-long prisoners of the sea? Mystery!"
As marcdcyr very rightly points out, this is verbose writing about the mystery of why a verbose writer might be popular with people who presumably didn't read terribly well.
But to my surprise, I realized that although I didn't know the answer to Conrad's question my first 2-3 times through Children of the Sea, I did now. And so I wrote a very long explanation about that, and then realized it was buried in the comments in the mildly obscure blog Lingua Franca in the academically noteworthy but otherwise little-read Chronicle of Higher Education.
So I decided to rescue it and bring it out here, into my own blog, which is more obscure than all of them put together. I think there's a writing lesson or two in it somewhere: