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The Silent Isle - Chapter 14 Post by :eggibiz Category :Essays Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :3166

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The Silent Isle - Chapter 14


I have just finished a book and despatched it to the press. It is rather a dreary moment that! At first one has a sense of relief at having finished a task and set down a burden, but that elation lasts only for a day or two, and then one begins to miss one's true and faithful companion. This particular book has been in a special sense a companion to me, because it has been a book out of my own mind and heart, not a book undertaken for the sake of diffusing useful information, but a book of which I conceived the idea, planned the structure, and filled up the detail. It has almost assumed a personality. It has hardly been absent from my thoughts for the last six months. It has darted into my mind when I awoke; it has stood looking over my shoulder as I read, pointing with airy finger at the lines, "There is a thought for you; here is an excellent illustration of that point you could not make clear." It has walked with me as close or closer than my shadow, until it has become a real thing, a being, a friend, like myself but yet not quite myself.

And then my book, as I read it through for the last time, is all full of gentle and tender associations. This chapter brings back to me a day of fierce wind and blustering rain, when I walked by sodden roads and whistling hedges in my oldest clothes, till they hung heavily about me and creaked as I moved; the thought of the chapter came to me, I remember, when I decided that I had been far enough for health and even for glory, and when I fled back before the hooligan wind; then followed a long, quiet, firelit evening when I abandoned myself in luxurious case to my writing, till the drowsy clock struck the small hours of the morning. Then another chapter is all scented with the breath of roses, that stole into my windows on a still summer evening; at another point the page is almost streaked and stained for me with the sorrowful tidings which came to me in the middle of a sentence; when I took up my writing again some days after, it seemed as though there was a deep trench between me and my former self. And again another chapter was written in all the glow of a beautiful and joyful experience, in a day of serene gladness which made me feel that it was worth while to have lived, even if the world should hold nothing else that was happy for me.

Thus, then, and thus has my life transferred itself to these pages, till they are all full for me of joy and sorrow, of experience and delight, I suppose that a painter or a musician have the same tenderness about their work, though it seems to me impossible that their life can have so flowed into picture or song as my life has flowed into my book. The painter has had to transcribe what he sees, the musician to capture the delicate intervals that have thrilled his inner ear--but if the painter's thought has been absorbed in the forms that he is depicting, if the musician has lost himself among the airy harmonies, the sweet progressions, these things must have drawn them away from life, and secluded them in a paradise of emotion; but with me it has been different; for it is life itself that has palpitated in my pages, my very heart's blood has been driven by eager pulsations through sentence and phrase; and the book is thus a part of myself in a way in which no picture and no melody can be. I have something, I think, of the joy of the mother over her child, the child that has lain beneath her bosom and been nourished from her heart; and now that my book is to leave me, it is a part of myself that goes into the world of men.

And now I shall pass vague and dreary days, until the seed of life again quickens within me, and till I know again that I have conceived another creature of the mind. Dreary days, because the mind, relieved of its sweet toil, flaps loose and slack like a drooping sail. I am weary, too, not with a pleasant physical weariness, but with the weariness of one who has spent a part of life too swiftly. For the joy of such work as mine is so great that there seems nothing like it in the world; and the hours are vain and listless that are not so comforted. Now I shall make a dozen beginnings, not foreseeing the end, and I shall abandon them in despair. The beauties of the earth, the golden sunlight, the crimson close of day, the leaping streams, the dewy grass will call in vain. Books and talk alike will seem trivial and meaningless tattle, ministering to nothing.

And then my book will begin to return to me in printed pages. Sometimes that is a joy, when it seems better than one knew; sometimes it is a disgust, if one has passed swiftly out of the creative mood; and then it will be lost to me for a time while it is drest and adorned, to walk abroad; till it comes back like a stranger in its new guise.

And then comes what is the saddest experience of all; it will pass into the hands of friends and readers; echoes of it will come back to me, in talk and print; but it will no longer be the book I knew and loved, only a part of my past. And this is the hardest thing of all for a writer, that when others read one's book they take it for the flash of a present mood, while the writer of it will only see in it a pale reflection of a time long past, and will feel perhaps even farther away from his book than those who criticise it, however severely. If my book is criticised as I write it, or directly after I have written it, it is as though I were myself maltreated; but when it appears so belatedly, I am often the harshest critic of all, because my whole point of view may perhaps have shifted, and I may be no longer the man who wrote the book, but a man of larger experience, who can judge perhaps more securely than any one else how far behind life the book lags. There is no season in the world in which the mind travels faster from its standpoint than when it has finished a book, because during all the writing of it one has kept, as it were, tensely and constrainedly at a certain point; and so when freedom comes, the thought leaps hurriedly forward, like a weight lifted by an elastic cord that has been stretched almost to breaking. "Can I ever have thought or felt so?" the mind says to itself, scanning the pages; and thus a book, which is mistaken for the very soul of a man, is often no more like the man himself than a dusty, sunburnt picture that represents what he was long years before.

But to-day my only thought is that the little companion whom I loved so well, who has walked and sate, eaten and drunk, gone in and out with me, silent and smiling, has left me and departed to try his fortune in the rough world. How will he fare? how will he be greeted? And yet I know that when he returns to me, saying, "I am a part of yourself," I shall be apt to deny it. For whereas now, if my child is lame, or feeble or pitiful or blind, I love him the better that he is not strong and active; when he returns I shall have a clear eye for his faults and weaknesses, and shall wish him other than he will be.

Sometimes I have talked with the writers of books, and they have told me of the misery and agony that the composition of a book has brought them. They speak of hot and cold fits; of times when they write fiercely and eagerly, and of times when they cannot set down a line to their mind; days of despair when they hate and despise the book; days when they cannot satisfy themselves about a single word: all this is utterly unknown to me; once embarked upon a book, I have neither hesitation nor fear. To sit down to it, day after day, and to write, is like sitting down to talk with one's nearest friend, where no concealment or diplomacy is necessary, but where one can say exactly what comes into the mind, with no fear of being misunderstood. I have not the smallest difficulty about expressing exactly as I wish to express it, whatever is in my mind. When I fail, it is because the thought itself is incomplete, imperfect, obscure; yet as I write, weariness and dissatisfaction are unknown. I cannot imagine how anyone can write a book without loving the toil, such as it is. Probably that is because I am indolent or pleasure-loving. I do not see how work of this kind can be done at all in a spirit of heaviness, it may be a fine moral discipline to do a dreaded thing heavily and faithfully; but what hope is there of the work being tinged with delight? It is as though a tired man set out to make a butterfly out of cardboard and gum and powdered silks; it would be nothing when it was made. A book must, before all things, have vigour; and vigour cannot be germinated by a sense of duty; it can only spring from hope and confidence and desire.

But now, to-day, my darling has gone from me; he is jolting in some dusty van, or he is propelled through muddy streets in a red box on wheels; or perhaps he is already in the factory among the rattle of type and the throb of the printing-press. I feel like a father whose boy has gone to school, and who sits wondering how the child may be faring in the big, unfamiliar place. Well, I will not grieve; but rather I will thank the Father of all things living, the inspirer of all sweet and delicate thoughts, all pleasant fancies, all glowing words, for the joy that I have had.

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