Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 26

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Chapter XXVI: The Triumphant Author

So to the party I went, and had the delight of seeing and hearing the men with whose names I had been long acquainted, as the leaders of scientific discovery in this wondrous age; and more than one poet, too, over whose works I had gloated, whom I had worshipped in secret. Intense was the pleasure of now realizing to myself, as living men, wearing the same flesh and blood as myself, the names which had been to me mythic ideas. Lillian was there among them, more exquisite than ever; but even she at first attracted my eyes and thoughts less than did the truly great men around her. I hung on every word they spoke, I watched every gesture, as if they must have some deep significance; the very way in which they drank their coffee was a matter of interest to me. I was almost disappointed to see them eat and chat like common men. I expected that pearls and diamonds would drop from their lips, as they did from those of the girl, in the fairy-tale, every time they opened their mouths; and certainly, the conversation that evening was a new world to me—though I could only, of course, be a listener. Indeed, I wished to be nothing more. I felt that I was taking my place there among the holy guild of authors—that I too, however humbly, had a thing to say, and had said it; and I was content to sit on the lowest step of the literary temple, without envy for those elder and more practised priests of wisdom, who had earned by long labour the freedom of the inner shrine. I should have been quite happy enough standing there, looking and listening—but I was at last forced to come forward. Lillian was busy chatting with grave, grey-headed men, who seemed as ready to flirt, and pet and admire the lovely little fairy, as if they had been as young and gay as herself. It was enough for me to see her appreciated and admired. I loved them for smiling on her, for handing her from her seat to the piano with reverent courtesy: gladly would I have taken their place: I was content, however, to be only a spectator; for it was not my rank, but my youth, I was glad to fancy, which denied me that blissful honour. But as she sang, I could not help stealing up to the piano; and, feasting my greedy eyes with every motion of those delicious lips, listen and listen, entranced, and living only in that melody.

Suddenly, after singing two or three songs, she began fingering the keys, and struck into an old air, wild and plaintive, rising and falling like the swell of an Æolian harp upon a distant breeze.

"Ah! now," she said, "if I could get words for that! What an exquisite lament somebody might write to it, if they could only thoroughly take in the feeling and meaning of it."

"Perhaps," I said, humbly, "that is the only way to write songs—to let some air get possession of ones whole soul, and gradually inspire the words for itself; as the old Hebrew prophets had music played before them, to wake up the prophetic spirit within them."

She looked up, just as if she had been unconscious of my presence till that moment.

"Ah! Mr. Locke!—well, if you understand my meaning so thoroughly, perhaps you will try and write some words for me."

"I am afraid that I do not enter sufficiently into the meaning of the air."

"Oh! then, listen while I play it over again. I am sure you ought to appreciate anything so sad and tender."

And she did play it, to my delight, over again, even more gracefully and carefully than before—making the inarticulate sounds speak a mysterious train of thoughts and emotions. It is strange how little real intellect, in women especially, is required for an exquisite appreciation of the beauties of music—perhaps, because it appeals to the heart and not the head.