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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMy Novel - Book 6 - Chapter 16
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My Novel - Book 6 - Chapter 16 Post by :ortaz Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1777

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My Novel - Book 6 - Chapter 16

BOOK SIXTH CHAPTER XVI

Mr. Prickett was a believer in homeeopathy, and declared, to the indignation of all the apothecaries round Holborn, that he had been cured of a chronic rheumatism by Dr. Morgan. The good doctor had, as he promised, seen Mr. Prickett when he left Leonard, and asked him as a favour to find some light occupation for the boy, that would serve as an excuse for a modest weekly salary. "It will not be for long," said the doctor: "his relations are respectable and well off. I will write to his grandparents, and in a few days I hope to relieve you of the charge. Of course, if you don't want him, I will repay what he costs meanwhile."

Mr. Prickett, thus prepared for Leonard, received him very graciously; and, after a few questions, said Leonard was just the person he wanted to assist him in cataloguing his books, and offered him most handsomely L1 a week for the task.

Plunged at once into a world of books vaster than he had ever before won admission to, that old divine dream of knowledge, out of which poetry had sprung, returned to the village student at the very sight of the venerable volumes. The collection of Mr. Prickett was, however, in reality by no means large; but it comprised not only the ordinary standard works, but several curious and rare ones. And Leonard paused in making the catalogue, and took many a hasty snatch of the contents of each tome, as it passed through his hands. The bookseller, who was an enthusiast for old books, was pleased to see a kindred feeling (which his shop-boy had never exhibited) in his new assistant; and he talked about rare editions and scarce copies, and initiated Leonard into many of the mysteries of the bibliographist.

Nothing could be more dark and dingy than the shop. There was a booth outside, containing cheap books and odd volumes, round which there was always an attentive group; within, a gas-lamp burned night and day.

But time passed quickly to Leonard. He missed not the green fields, he forgot his disappointments, he ceased to remember even Helen. O strange passion of knowledge! nothing like thee for strength and devotion!

Mr. Prickett was a bachelor, and asked Leonard to dine with him on a cold shoulder of mutton. During dinner the shop-boy kept the shop, and Mr. Prickett was really pleasant, as well as loquacious. He took a liking to Leonard, and Leonard told him his adventures with the publishers, at which Mr. Prickett rubbed his hands and laughed, as at a capital joke. "Oh, give up poetry, and stick to a shop," cried he; "and to cure you forever of the mad whim to be author, I'll just lend you the 'Life and Works of Chatterton.' You may take it home with you and read before you go to bed. You'll come back quite a new man to-morrow."

Not till night, when the shop was closed, did Leonard return to his lodging. And when he entered the room, he was struck to the soul by the silence, by the void. Helen was gone!

There was a rose-tree in its pot on the table at which he wrote, and by it a scrap of paper, on which was written,

DEAR, dear brother Leonard, God bless you. I will let you know when we can meet again. Take care of this rose, Brother, and don't forget poor

HELEN.


Over the word "forget" there was a big round blistered spot that nearly effaced the word.

Leonard leaned his face on his hands, and for the first time in his life he felt what solitude really is. He could not stay long in the room. He walked out again, and wandered objectless to and fro the streets. He passed that stiller and humbler neighbourhood, he mixed with the throng that swarmed in the more populous thoroughfares. Hundreds and thousands passed him by, and still--still such solitude.

He came back, lighted his candle, and resolutely drew forth the "Chatterton" which the bookseller had lent him. It was an old edition, in one thick volume. It had evidently belonged to some contemporary of the poet's,--apparently an inhabitant of Bristol,--some one who had gathered up many anecdotes respecting Chatterton's habits, and who appeared even to have seen him, nay, been in his company; for the book was interleaved, and the leaves covered with notes and remarks, in a stiff clear hand,--all evincing personal knowledge of the mournful immortal dead. At first, Leonard read with an effort; then the strange and fierce spell of that dread life seized upon him,--seized with pain and gloom and terror,--this boy dying by his own hand, about the age Leonard had attained himself. This wondrous boy, of a genius beyond all comparison the greatest that ever yet was developed and extinguished at the age of eighteen,--self-taught, self-struggling, self-immolated. Nothing in literature like that life and that death!

With intense interest Leonard perused the tale of the brilliant imposture, which had been so harshly and so absurdly construed into the crime of a forgery, and which was (if not wholly innocent) so akin to the literary devices always in other cases viewed with indulgence, and exhibiting, in this, intellectual qualities in themselves so amazing,--such patience, such forethought, such labour, such courage, such ingenuity,--the qualities that, well directed, make men great, not only in books, but action. And, turning from the history of the imposture to the poems themselves, the young reader bent before their beauty, literally awed and breathless. How this strange Bristol boy tamed and mastered his rude and motley materials into a music that comprehended every tune and key, from the simplest to the sublimest! He turned back to the biography; he read on; he saw the proud, daring, mournful spirit alone in the Great City, like himself. He followed its dismal career, he saw it falling with bruised and soiled wings into the mire. He turned again to the later works, wrung forth as tasks for bread,--the satires without moral grandeur, the politics without honest faith. He shuddered and sickened as he read. True, even here his poet mind appreciated (what perhaps only poets can) the divine fire that burned fitfully through that meaner and more sordid fuel,--he still traced in those crude, hasty, bitter offerings to dire Necessity the hand of the young giant who had built up the stately verse of Rowley. But alas! how different from that "mighty line." How all serenity and joy had fled from these later exercises of art degraded into journey-work! Then rapidly came on the catastrophe,--the closed doors, the poison, the suicide, the manuscripts torn by the hands of despairing wrath, and strewed round the corpse upon the funereal floors. It was terrible! The spectre of the Titan boy (as described in the notes written on the margin), with his haughty brow, his cynic smile, his lustrous eyes, haunted all the night the baffled and solitary child of song.

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BOOK SIXTH CHAPTER XVBefore he went the doctor wrote a line to "Mr. Prickett, Bookseller, Holborn," and told Leonard to take it the next morning, as addressed. "I will call on Prickett myself tonight and prepare him for your visit. But I hope and trust you will only have to stay there a few days." He then turned the conversation, to communicate his plans for Helen. Miss Starke lived at Highgate,--a worthy woman, stiff and prim, as old maids sometimes are; but just the place for a little girl like Helen, and Leonard should certainly be allowed to call and see
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