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I saw Stephen Crane a few days after his arrival in London.

2023-12-01 20:59:03 source:A Spring Dream Netauthor: data click:196Second-rate

As a fact, this remark about her sybaritism was only a jest. Brought up in the country, she was strong, active, brave, and full of life. To all her charms of delicate beauty she united the energy of physical and moral health. She was the proud-spirited and fearless girl, no less than the sweet and affable mistress of the house. I often found her haughty and disdainful. Patience and the poor of the district never found her anything but modest and good-natured.

I saw Stephen Crane a few days after his arrival in London.

Edmee loved the poets almost as much as the transcendental philosophers. In her walks she always carried a book in her hand. One day when she had taken Tasso with her she met Patience, who, as was his wont, inquired minutely into both author and subject. Edmee thereupon had to give him an account of the Crusades. This was not the most difficult part of her task. Thanks to the stores of information derived from the abbe and to his prodigious memory for facts, Patience had a passable knowledge of the outlines of universal history. But what he had great trouble in grasping was the connection and difference between epic poetry and history. At first he was indignant at the inventions of the poets, and declared that such impostures ought never to have been allowed. Then, when he had realized that epic poetry, far from leading generations into error, only raised heroic deeds to vaster proportions and a more enduring glory, he asked how it was that all important events had not been sung by the bards, and why the history of man had not been embodied in a popular form capable of impressing itself on every mind without the help of letters. He begged Edmee to explain to him a stanza of /Jerusalem Delivered/. As he took a fancy to it, she read him a canto in French. A few days later she read him another, and soon Patience knew the whole poem. He rejoiced to hear that the heroic tale was popular in Italy; and, bringing together his recollections of it, endeavoured to give them an abridged form in rude prose, but he had no memory for words. Roused by his vivid impressions, he would call up a thousand mighty images before his eyes. He would give utterance to them in improvisations wherein his genius triumphed over the uncouthness of his language, but he could never repeat what he had once said. One would have had to take it down from his dictation, and even that would have been of no use to him; for, supposing he had managed to read it, his memory, accustomed to occupy itself solely with thoughts, had never been able to retain any fragment whatever in its precise words. And yet he was fond of quoting, and at times his language was almost biblical. Beyond, however, certain expressions that he loved, and a number of short sentences that he found means to make his own, he remembered nothing of the pages which had been read to him so often, and he always listened to them again with the same emotion as at first. It was a veritable pleasure to watch the effect of beautiful poetry on this powerful intellect. Little by little the abbe, Edmee, and subsequently I myself, managed to familiarize him with Homer and Dante. He was so struck by the various incidents in the /Divine Comedy/ that he could give an analysis of the poem from beginning to end, without forgetting or misplacing the slightest detail in the journey, the encounters, and the emotions of the poet. There, however, his power ended. If he essayed to repeat some of the phrases which had so charmed him when they were read, he flung forth a mass of metaphors and images which savoured of delirium. This initiation into the wonders of poetry marked an epoch in the life of Patience. In the realm of fancy it supplied the action wanting to his real life. In his magic mirror he beheld gigantic combats between heroes ten cubits high; he understood love, which he himself had never known; he fought, he loved, he conquered; he enlightened nations, gave peace to the world, redressed the wrongs of mankind, and raised up temples to the mighty spirit of the universe. He saw in the starry firmament all the gods of Olympus, the fathers of primitive humanity. In the constellations he read the story of the golden age, and of the ages of brass; in the winter wind he heard the songs of Morven, and in the storm-clouds he bowed to the ghosts of Fingal and Comala.

I saw Stephen Crane a few days after his arrival in London.

"Before I knew the poets," he said towards the end of his life, "I was a man lacking in one of the senses. I could see plainly that this sense was necessary, since there were so many things calling for its operation. In my solitary walks at night I used to feel a strange uneasiness; I used to wonder why I could not sleep; why I should find such pleasure in gazing upon the stars that I could not tear myself from their presence; why my heart should suddenly beat with joy on seeing certain colours, or grow sad even to tears on hearing certain sounds. At times I was so alarmed on comparing my continual agitation with the indifference of other men of my class that I even began to imagine that I was mad. But I soon consoled myself with the reflection that such madness was sweet, and I would rather have ceased to exist than be cured of it. Now that I know these things have been thought beautiful in all times and by all intelligent beings, I understand what they are, and how they are useful to man. I find joy in the thought that there is not a flower, not a colour, not a breath of air, which has not absorbed the minds and stirred the hearts of other men till it has received a name sacred among all peoples. Since I have learnt that it is allowed to man, without degrading his reason, to people the universe and interpret it by his dreams, I live wholly in the contemplation of the universe; and when the sight of the misery and crime in the world bruises my heart and shakes my reason, I fall back upon my dreams. I say to myself that, since all men are united in their love of the works of God, some day they will also be united in their love of one another. I imagine that education grows more and more perfect from father to son. It may be that I am the first untutored man who has divined truths of which no glimpse was given him from without. It may be, too, that many others before myself have been perplexed by the workings of their hearts and brains and have died without ever finding an answer to the riddle. "Ah, we poor folk," added Patience, "we are never forbidden excess in labour, or in wine, or in any of the debauches which may destroy our minds. There are some people who pay dearly for the work of our arms, so that the poor, in their eagerness to satisfy the wants of their families, may work beyond their strength. There are taverns and other places more dangerous still, from which, so it is said, the government draws a good profit; and there are priests, too, who get up in their pulpits to tell us what we owe to the lord of our village, but never what the lord owes to us. Nowhere is there a school where they teach us our real rights; where they show us how to distinguish our true and decent wants from the shameful and fatal ones; where, in short, they tell us what we can and ought to think about when we have borne the burden and heat of the day for the profit of others, and are sitting in the evening at the door of our huts, gazing on the red stars as they come out on the horizon."

I saw Stephen Crane a few days after his arrival in London.

Thus would Patience reason; and, believe me, in translating his words into our conventional language, I am robbing them of all their grace, all their fire, and all their vigour. But who could repeat the exact words of Patience? His was a language used by none but himself; it was a mixture of the limited, though forcible, vocabulary of the peasants and of the boldest metaphors of the poets, whose poetic turns he would often make bolder still. To this mixed idiom his sympathetic mind gave order and logic. An incredible wealth of thought made up for the brevity of the phrases that clothed it. You should have seen how desperately his will and convictions strove to overcome the impotence of his language; any other than he would have failed to come out of the struggle with honour. And I assure you that any one capable of something more serious than laughing at his solecisms and audacities of phrase, would have found in this man material for the most important studies on the development of the human mind, and an incentive to the most tender admiration for primitive moral beauty.

When, subsequently, I came to understand Patience thoroughly, I found a bond of sympathy with him in my own exceptional destiny. Like him, I had been without education; like him, I had sought outside myself for an explanation of my being--just as one seeks the answer to a riddle. Thanks to the accidents of my birth and fortune, I had arrived at complete development, while Patience, to the hour of his death, remained groping in the darkness of an ignorance from which he neither would nor could emerge. To me, however, this was only an additional reason for recognising the superiority of that powerful nature which held its course more boldly by the feeble light of instinct, than I myself by all the brilliant lights of knowledge; and which, moreover, had not had a single evil inclination to subdue, while I had had all that a man may have.

At the time, however, at which I must take up my story, Patience was still, in my eyes, merely a grotesque character, an object of amusement for Edmee, and of kindly compassion for the Abbe Aubert. When they spoke to me about him in a serious tone, I no longer understood them, and I imagined they took this subject as a sort of text whereon to build a parable proving to me the advantages of education, the necessity of devoting myself to study early in life, and the futility of regrets in after years.

Yet this did not prevent me from prowling about the copses about his new abode, for I had seen Edmee crossing the park in that direction, and I hoped that if I took her by surprise as she was returning, I should get a conversation with her. But she was always accompanied by the abbe, and sometimes even by her father, and if she remained alone with the old peasant, he would escort her to the chateau afterwards. Frequently I have concealed myself in the foliage of a giant yew-tree, which spread out its monstrous shoots and drooping branches to within a few yards of the cottage, and have seen Edmee sitting at the door with a book in her hand while Patience was listening with his arms folded and his head sunk on his breast, as though he were overwhelmed by the effort of attention. At that time I imagined that Edmee was trying to teach him to read, and thought her mad to persist in attempting an impossible education. But how beautiful she seemed in the light of the setting sun, beneath the yellowing vine leaves that overhung the cottage door! I used to gaze on her and tell myself that she belonged to me, and vow never to yield to any force or persuasion which should endeavour to make me renounce my claim.

For some days my agony of mind had been intense. My only method of escaping from it had been to drink heavily at supper, so that I might be almost stupefied at the hour, for me so painful and so galling, when she would leave the drawing-room after kissing her father, giving her hand to M. de la Marche, and saying as she passed by me, "Good- night, Bernard," in a tone which seemed to say, "To-day has ended like yesterday, and to-morrow will end like to-day."

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