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not go to the ink, the ink could not come to the paper, the paper could not pour forth ideas and array itself with words, as the earth in spring throws out verdure and flowers from its bosom, spontaneously spreading beauty and fertility where all had been waste and barren before.
Alas! my immaculate sheet lay in view, like an untrodden wilderness of snow, which I must cross, without a bush, or a knoll, or a single inequality on the surface, to guide my course, or awaken one pleasing association amidst the dreary monotony of the scene. And truly, if it had been what it so chillingly resembled, the very sight of it freezing my blood, -I felt just then as though I would rather have been "the man perishing amidst the snow," in immortality of verse, than the living being that I was, by a comfortable fireside, with no perils to fear beyond such as I might encounter at a mahogany writing-desk, in traversing with my finger-ends a few sheets of cream-colored paper.
To consummate my misery, I recollected that one of my fair friend's correspondents, being in a similar dilemma, though not, as in my case, from the folly of self-confidence, had the felicity to fall asleep, and dream so entertainingly, that I only wondered how he could find in his heart to awake, unless it was for the pleasure of telling his dream. But, though fervently invoked, Apollo in no shape, and least of all in the shape of Morpheus, would come to my relief; nor could I dream of sleeping in such distress, for had I slept, whatever might have been my visions, pen, ink, and paper, would have haunted me; and I knew that, when I awoke, I should find nothing before me but pen, ink, and paper still.
Again, with a feeling too forlorn to be remembered without a relapse of it, I took up my pen: the ink had already dried
Spontaneously, of one's own internal or native feeling, of one's own accord, by its own force or energy, without the impulse of a foreign cause ly, 110.- Immaculate, spotless, pure, unstained, without a blemish: im, 33; ate, 76. - Monotony, figuratively – -an irksome sameness or want of variety. Apollo, the god of archery, music, prophecy, and poetry. Morpheus, the god of sleep, and also of dreams.
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 invention, all expression."
This drop of ink can speak all languages, discover al 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
O that I had a chemical test, whereby I might analyze this little fluid, 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, to 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 myself at their expense in another way, by foisting impotent imitations upon my good-natured readers, to gain sourious credit, under the sanction of great names.
79. The Same, concluded.
THE door was first opened, without ceremony, by a heartylooking, 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. He 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 it 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.