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THE SUMMER'S WORK.
HE summer is fast gliding by-a summer of some pleasure, of more labor, of multiply
ing interests, of much that has left a rich residuum of experience in the depths of my heart. It has made life's purpose and significance clearer to me. It has taught me that, as our nature is constituted, and under its present
conditions, we are made more contented, as well as wiser, by a due admixture of sorrow and disappointment in our earthly cup. The life that is rightly lived, grows richer by its losses and gladder through its tears. Not only "knowledge," but joy, "by suffering entereth." So long as we make earthly happiness an end, and seek it directly, we are certain to miss it, and to be continually chilled and soured and disappointed thereby; but as soon as we make up our minds to do without it, and put submission, usefulness, an earnest striving after holiness, in its place, we are apt to find it quietly waiting upon them, as their humble handmaiden.
So much of truth has the summer brought to me in its gliding by. Let us see what it has brought to others,-for it has suffered none of the persons left behind by these chronicles to stand quite still.
Alice Prescott took to the study of Italian as a bird to the air. So far, the poet's dower is hers-she has the gift of tongues.
Moreover, the readings long ago inaugurated have been quietly educating her taste, and deepening her thought. For her sake, I have made frequent selections from the poets, and accompanied the reading thereof with copious commentary, analysis, and criticism. I left these to do their silent work. That they did it I knew well, not only by frequently surprising Alice with a pencil and a scrap of paper in her hands, and the pleasant trouble of poetic travail in her face; but by seeing the same scraps thrust silently and despondently into the kitchen fire. It was long ere I put forth a hand to save one of these froi doom.
"I hope I have your permission to read this," said 1 when I had done so.
"If it were worth reading, I would have brought it to you unasked. Do not mortify me by looking at it!" "Is it lately written?"
"Oh, no; I wrote it more than a fortnight ago."
"Ah! yes, everything does, at first. But, in a few days, all the flavor, all the life, have gone out of it. It is wishy-washy, and sickens me! It is cold and dead, and chills me! I hasten to put it out of my sight."
"That is to say that the inevitable moment of doubt, discouragement, and disgust, which comes to every worker for Art, be it painter, sculptor, or poet, comes also to you. It may be that it is the moment wherein his late standard, well-nigh reached, begins to mount higher; it may be the one which first reveals to him that the fairest, subtlest graces of his spiritual ideal are not to be embodied in color, marble, or rhythm. Still, that moment of disgust is not the time to judge fairly of the work done. Leave the decision to me whether this deserves the flames, or no."
"Not that," she exclaimed hurriedly; "let me bring you something I wrote this morning."
"Which has not yet lost its flavor? No, thank you.
My praise, if I have any to give, will seem fearfully cold to that birth-warm effusion. While my criticism will not hurt this one nearly so much."
Her reluctance continued, and seemed so disproportionate to the occasion, that I was first puzzled, then half-vexed. Seeing that, she yielded at once, and sat with a downcast face and deeply-suffused cheeks, awaiting the result.
Of course, I expected to see "Lines to--" something, -summer, autumn, a cat, a flower, on the death of a friend, or some one of the hackneyed themes of youthful rhymers. What I actually saw, therefore, astonished me not a little. The verses had no title, and they ran thus:
"I have locked my heart, and I give you the key.
It's of no use to you, and still less to me.
"None shall come after you into that door,→
"Let the dim ghost of our dead love all night
"Let it count over 'mid silence and dearth,
Hopes that once laughed in the glow on the hearth,
"Then, when the dawn o'er the hilltops doth peep,
Grave that the slow years dig ever more deep!"
The cause of Alice's reluctance was at once made clear to me. For a moment, I felt a flush on my own cheek. By means of that marvelous intuition of hers, she had arrived at some conception of the sort of chill and torpor that had fallen on my heart, and given it voice, in my stead. Strange that the poet's insight can almost dispense with
experience! That a slender New England girl, hid away in the quietest corner of a quiet town, with no personal knowledge of love, and quite innocent of its heartache, should write such a sombre, hopeless, death-scented lyric as this, was indeed a marvel!
I read it twice or thrice, partly to get rid of my selfconsciousness, partly to qualify myself for judgment.
'Well, Alice," I said, at length, "you need not burn this, and you may go on rhyming."
She looked at me with a slow, tremulous joy dawning in her blue eyes. Yet the mute gaze seemed to ask for something more. To gratify it, I went on:—
"Your verses are better than I expected. They are simple and unpretending, and, therefore, do not greatly challenge criticism. I am glad to observe that you avoid false rhymes and mixed metaphors, and that a distinct line of thought is traceable throughout. This is somethingmuch, in so young a poet."
Her face grew radiant, but her questioning look did n change. What an unerring instinct the girl has!
"If you really crave a little criticism," said I, smiling "here it is! The last line is not quite smooth."
Ah, yes! I know it," she replied. "But how else am I to get both the thought and the rhyme?"
"There, I suspect, is the poet's worst difficulty," said I. "To make sense and rhyme perfectly harmonious, so that neither warps nor constrains the other; to manage both so artfully as to make it appear that the thought could in no otherwise be so well and adequately expressed ;--that must give him his hardest labor. But I should really like to know what is the poet's process, Alice."
"I do not know if I can tell you," she answered, slowly. 166 With me, it seems like a remembering rather than a making. My verses come to me precisely as you recall a halfforgotten poem or song. Whole lines and stanzas start up in my mind, without the least effort; but here and there
are gaps which it is hard to fill. In vain I try to remember what belongs in them; the missing line or phrase hovers about the outer edge of my mind, but cannot be coaxed within it. It is only after long trial that I can fill up these gaps, at all; and the interpolation always has the air of a patch over a hole in a garment,—at least, to me."
She then brought me her morning's production. It proved to be better than this, after all,-more original, and with a stronger, sweeter flow. It is too long to copy, but it can be found in the August No. of the Magazine.
For, after Alice had copied it in her best hand (and it is not the least of her literary qualifications that she writes one which it is a pleasure and not a penance to read), I sent it to the editor thereof,-whom I happen to know slightly,bespeaking for it a more prompt and careful examination than is usually vouchsafed to the production of an unknown author. Two or three days brought back a letter, saying that he would be "happy to hear from her again;" and enclosing a sum which filled Alice with shy, crimson delight, and made Mrs. Prescott hold up her head as high as if she had received the first instalment of an ample and certain fortune.
But Alice's literary path was not always to run thus smooth. Her second venture was "declined, with thanks;" it was "too grave for our columns," (which means simply that it was devotional),-would she "try again?" She did try again, and her article was accepted; but not without a warning that it was below the mark of the first one, duly emphasized by a much smaller enclosure. Her rejected. “Hymn ”—which was really the best of the three-finally found a place in the columns of a religious weekly; at a rate of compensation so low as to leave no question whatever about the comparative values of religion and non-religion in the literary market; nor any shred of doubt in which branch of the trade a neophyte's talent would be best rewarded—that is, so far as earthly remuneration is concerned.