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in it, though not a line had been written except that shortest, and sweetest, and least of all, as every body knows, “ Dear Madam!" I cast my eye down the first page of the paper, and, if it had been an indictment for petty larceny, I could scarcely have faced it with more horror : it was as white, and as smooth, and as empty as ever! I turned to the inkstand, and looked into it, like Æsop's thirsty crow into the pitcher with a drop of water at the bottom, which the sagacious bird — it could not be the same crow that let the cheese fall out of his beak into the fox's chops — raised to the brim by dropping pebble after pebble into it. But my difficulty was not to bring the ink out of the stand, but the meaning out of the ink. “Ah," quoth I, gently shaking it, “here lies the quintessence of all science, all art, all inven. tion, all expression.”
This drop of ink can speak all languages, discover all secrets, communicate all feeling, display all knowledge, detect all sophistry. There is not a thought which the heart of man can conceive, or a word which human lips can utter, but it is here, - absolutely in my hand, before my eyes; yet I am so blind, or so stupid, that I can discern nothing but a decoction of nutgalls and copperas. O that I had a talisman, which would enable me to call up from this dark pool all the “ legions, angel-forms,” who lie“ entranced” within it
" Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooks
In Vallombrosa !"
O that I had a chemical test, whereby I might analyze this little fuid, and learn, not what it is made of, but what might be made of it! I am too dull at present to fish up a single idea from the bottom; yet, if ten thousand people were to sit down to the experiment, each one would produce something different from every other; and were they all to record their lucubrations in this ink, with this pen, on this paper, their themes, their thoughts, their diction, would appear as diverse as their faces, their voices, and their handwriting.
78. The Same, continued.
Fanciful as the above soliloquy may seem to my readers, 10 me it was a golden key, which of its own accord unlocked a casket of curious speculations, so dazzling, attractive, and numberless, that I knew not where to begin, or which to select. It was evident, however, on the first glance at this treasure, that I might fill my paper with a descriptive catalogue of only a few of the gems, while the mine whence they came would be as exhaustless as the collective imaginations of all minds that ever have been, are, or will be, in this world of everlasting vicissitudes. Accordingly, in brisker spirits, I snatched up the pen once more, which trembled like a living thing between my fingers, for I was anxious to fix down with it some of those fleeting visionaries, lest a breath or a motion might startle them away, and dissolve the enchantment forever. And thus I began with the first that I could touch.
“If I were little Jackey Jessamy, ten years old last Candlemas, with a flaxen poll, rosy cheeks, and a frilled shirtneck; and if, having mastered pot-hooks and strokes, I had made my way into joined hand, — with this pen, from this ink, on this paper, I should be inditing, 'Fortune favors the brave;' Custom is second nature;' 'Be wise betimes, shun darling crimes,' — with other saws and maxims equally elegant and edifying, - which no time, no space, no circumstance could ever blot out from the tablet of memory, though for the time present, so far from improving either my morals or my handwriting by the exercise, I might be playing truant in my head, and whipping a top or striking a ball with all my heart.
But if I were Jackey's mamma, and through means of this apparatus were corresponding with his schoolmaster on the best method of spoiling the dear boy, there is no doubt that, with due maternal tenderness, I would expatiate upon his naturally quick parts, and give special warning that these
should not be blunted by too much study; for reading wears the eyes, writing soils the fingers, and arithmetic wrinkles the forehead; but I would recommend the utmost care of his person, the free indulgence of his gingerbread appetite, and the most conscientious neglect of his morals.
Ah, then, a hundred to one but this very letter would be the death-warrant to the poor lad's best interests; and this, being duly executed by an obsequious teacher, would send the boy from school with as little head as the fondest parent could desire to see on his heir apparent's shoulders, and well fitted to maintain the family imbecility, and transmit it unimpaired to posterity.”
Pen, ink, and paper are still before me as at first. I look again at the ink, in which the elements of all knowledge are blended indistinguishably, and I think, “ If I were a poet!” Why, nothing in the world is easier than to think one's self a poet; and next to it, nothing more common than to be thought so by others! Ay, but to be a poet! why, to be sure, that is quite a different thing. Well, but if I were a poet, how I could illumine these blank leaves, and adorn them with imagery more imperishable than the sculptures of Greece!
If, for example, I were Scott - impossible! Campbell next to impossible! Byron - more than impossible! Well, then, if I were Southey — no. Wordsworth — no. Bloomfield — no. Moore - no. I was so disheartened by these negatives, that I durst not hazard another if; but it was my good fortune to fall immediately into a brown study, when, to my astonishment and delight, the afore-named personages, one by one, came into the room, and, sitting down on the chair which I had occupied, - how I happened to vacate my seat, I know not, any more than by what spell I was replaced in it at the end of two hours, - each in his turn made use of my pen, ink, and paper.
O, if I could copy what they wrote, - what only one of them wrote, - I should make these pages the most acceptable that were ever presented by me to the public; but I could
not pass them for my own, without hazarding the fate of the jackdaw who borrowed the peacock's feathers. Nor will I plume niyself at their expense in another way, by foisting impotent imitations upon my good-natured readers, to gain spurious credit, under the sanction of great names.
79. The Same, concluded.
'The door was first opened, without ceremony, by a hearty· looking, middle-aged country gentleman, who came in as if he
had just arrived at his own home after a day of grouse-shooting on the moors, with a smile of indescribable good-humor on his countenance, through which some gay apparition of thought seemed breaking, like the moon out of a cloud. Ho sat down, took up the pen, dipped it in the ink, and presently covered the paper with an eight-syllable lay of the easiest verse in the world, that ambled and cantered, in all the paces of a Highland Pegasus, through an ode concerning barons and knights, ladies and lakes, fields and tournaments, feasts and songs, forests, mountains, and minstrels, — so unlike any thing that any body else ever wrote, and so like all that he himself had written, that I could not mistake the. author. No sooner, however, had he risen up, than the whole, — which I read as he penned, and which he penned as fast as I could read, – vanished from the paper, leaving it as blank as before.
I caught the disappearing face of my visitor, turned over his shoulder with an arch significance of expression, which made ic at once “ another and the same," and left me bewildered with transport at having discovered the greatest secret of the age. For I am positive to this hour that, as the sun shone from the passage into the room, I saw the shadow of Sir Walter Scott following the person who went out.
The next was in no hurry, however, for display; and, I. must confess, he pored so long over his task, writing very slowly, hilting sometimes on the down-stroke of a letter, and so frequently retracing, interlining, and blotting out, that having lost all patience, I was ready to push him from the seat, when he suddenly rose; his eye kindled into rapture; and, from a completely disfigured and illegible sheet, – in tones that yet ring in my ear, like music remembered from infancy, — he recited about twenty lyric lines, in which he had bound up so much harmony, splendor, and pathos of language, imagination, and feeling, that I could have listened to the repetition of the strain a thousand times over, from morning till evening on a midsummer's day, and afterwards could have realized all the romance of the song in the fairy land of a Midsummer Night's Dream.
But this enchantment, as well as the rest, melted away like the rainbow from my paper, while I gazed upon it. I had not time to regret the loss of Campbell, whom I forgot to name before, when another of the tuneful fraternity, of diminutive stature, but with the airiness and vivacity of a bird, darting in at the door, lighted on the chair, and rapidly crosslined and speckled my paper with the words and melody of a song, composed and set to music by himself; which he iminediately warbled forth with the sweetness of a redbreast, at the fall of the leaf. It was simple and passionate, tender and indignant, at the same time. The burden, of course, was beauty and wrongs; but whether of a female or his country, I could not precisely determine. If it was of Ireland that he sung, his patriotism had the fervor of love; if it was of a lady, his love had the impetuosity of patriotism. Would that he had always written as worthily or as ambiguously!
: Wordsworth, with a redeemed nest of birds in his possession, next took the chair, and had run through half a dozen of his nightingale cadences, and might have sung till next morning without hazard of interruption from me, when a being of almost superhuman appearance made a third in our company. He might have issued from the world of spirits;