Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 25

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Chapter XXV: A True Nobleman

At last my list of subscribers was completed, and my poems actually in the press. Oh! the childish joy with which I fondled my first set of proofs! And how much finer the words looked in print than they ever did in manuscript!—One took in the idea of a whole page so charmingly at a glance, instead of having to feel one's way through line after line, and sentence after sentence.—There was only one drawback to my happiness—Mackaye did not seem to sympathize with it. He had never grumbled at what I considered, and still do consider, my cardinal offence, the omission of the strong political passages; he seemed, on the contrary, in his inexplicable waywardness, to be rather pleased at it than otherwise. It was my publishing at all at which he growled.

"Ech," he said, "owre young to marry, is owre young to write; but it's the way o' these puir distractit times. Nae chick can find a grain o' corn, but oot he rins cackling wi' the shell on his head, to tell it to a' the warld, as if there was never barley grown on the face o' the earth before. I wonder whether Isaiah began to write before his beard was grown, or Dawvid either? He had mony a long year o' shepherding an' moss-trooping, an' rugging an' riving i' the wilderness, I'll warrant, afore he got thae gran' lyrics o' his oot o' him. Ye might tak example too, gin ye were minded, by Moses, the man o' God, that was joost forty years at the learning o' the Egyptians, afore he thocht gude to come forward into public life, an' then fun' to his gran' surprise, I warrant, that he'd begun forty years too sune—an' then had forty years mair, after that, o' marching an' law-giving, an' bearing the burdens o' the people, before he turned poet."

"Poet, sir! I never saw Moses in that light before."

"Then ye'll just read the 90th Psalm—'the prayer o' Moses, the man o' God'—the grandest piece o' lyric, to my taste, that I ever heard o' on the face o' God's earth, an' see what a man can write that'll have the patience to wait a century or twa before he rins to the publisher's. I gie ye up fra' this moment; the letting out o' ink is like the letting out o' waters, or the eating o' opium, or the getting up at public meetings.—When a man begins he canna stop. There's nae mair enslaving lust o' the flesh under the heaven than that same furor scribendi, as the Latins hae it."

But at last my poems were printed, and bound, and actually published, and I sat staring at a book of my own making, and wondering how it ever got into being! And what was more, the book "took," and sold, and was reviewed in People's journals, and in newspapers; and Mackaye himself relaxed into a grin, when his oracle, the Spectator, the only honest paper, according to him, on the face of the earth, condescended, after asserting its impartiality by two or three searching sarcasms, to dismiss me, grimly-benignant, with a paternal pat on the shoulder. Yes—I was a real live author at last, and signed myself, by special request, in the * * * * Magazine, as "the author of Songs of the Highways." At last it struck me, and Mackaye too, who, however he hated flunkeydom, never overlooked an act of discourtesy, that it would be right for me to call upon the dean, and thank him formally for all the real kindness he had shown me. So I went to the handsome house off Harley-street, and was shown into his study, and saw my own book lying on the table, and was welcomed by the good old man, and congratulated on my success, and asked if I did not see my own wisdom in "yielding to more experienced opinions than my own, and submitting to a censorship which, however severe it might have appeared at first, was, as the event proved, benignant both in its intentions and effects?"