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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 28

May 6

The May-day stillness, the lazy winds, the sweetness in the air, are all gone. A miserable north-easterly storm has set in. The garden loam is a mass of mud; the golden grass is drenched; the poor little cricket is drowned in a mud-puddle; the blue-birds are huddled among the leaves, with their heads under their drabbled page 17 wings, and the maple blossoms, dull and shrunken, drip against the glass.

It begins to be evident that it will never do for me to live alone. Yet who is there in the wide world that I could bear to bring here—into Roy's place?

A little old-fashioned book, bound in green and gold, attracted my attention this morning while I was dusting the library. It proved to be my mother's copy of "Elia,"—one that father had given her, I saw by the fly-leaf, in their early engagement days. It is some time since I have read Charles Lamb; indeed, since the middle of February I have read nothing of any sort. Phoebe dries the Journal for me every night, and sometimes I glance at the Telegraphic Summary, and sometimes I don't.

"You used to be fond enough of books," Mrs. Bland says, looking puzzled,—"regular blue-stocking, Mr. Bland called you (no personal objection to you, of course, my dear, but he doesn't like literary women, which is a great comfort to me). Why don't you read and divert yourself now?"

But my brain, like the rest of me, seems to be crushed. I could not follow three pages of history with attention. Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Whittier, Mrs. Browning, are filled with Roy's marks,—and so down the shelf. Besides, poetry strikes as nothing else does, deep into the roots of things. One finds everywhere some strain at the fibres of one's heart. A mind must be healthily reconciled to actual life before a poet—at least most poets—can help it. We must learn to bear and to work, before we can spare strength to dream.

To hymns and hymn-like poems, exception should be made. Some of them are like soft hands stealing into ours in the dark, and holding us fast without a spoken word. I do not know how many times Whittier's "Psalm," and that old cry of Cowper's, "God moves in a mysterious way," have quieted me,—just the sound of the words; when I was too wild to take in their meaning, and too wicked to believe them if I had.

As to novels (by the way, Meta Tripp sent me over four yesterday afternoon, among which notice "Aurora Floyd" and "Uncle Silas"), the author of "Rutledge" expresses my feeling about them precisely. I do not remember her exact words, but they are not unlike these—"She had far outlived the passion of ordinary novels; and the few which struck the depths of her experience gave her more pain than pleasure."

However, I took up poor "Elia" this morning, and stumbled upon "Dream Children," to which, for pathos and symmetry, I have read few things superior in the language. Years ago, I almost knew it by heart, but it has slipped out of memory with many other things of late. Any book, if it be one of those which Lamb calls "books which are books," put before us at different periods of life, will unfold to us new meanings,—wheels within wheels, delicate springs of purpose to which, at the last reading, we were stone-blind; gems which perhaps the author ignorantly cut and polished.

page 18

A sentence in this "Dream Children," which at eighteen I had passed by with a compassionate sort of wonder, only thinking that it gave me "the blues" to read it, and that I was glad Roy was alive, I have seized upon, and learned all over again now. I write it down to the dull music of the rain.

"And how, when he died, though he had not been dead an hour, it seemed as if he had died a great while ago, such a distance there is betwixt life and death; and how I bore his death, as I thought, pretty well at first, but afterwards it haunted and haunted me; and though I did not cry or take it to heart as some do, and as I think he would have done if I had died, yet I missed him all day long, and knew not till then how much I had loved him. I missed his kindness and I missed his crossness, and wished him to be alive again to be quarrelling with him (for we quarrelled sometimes), rather than not have him again."

How still the house is! I can hear the coach rumbling away at the half-mile corner, coming up from the evening train. A little arrow of light has just cut the gray gloom of the West.