Read CHAPTER X of The Book-Bills of Narcissus, free online book, by Le Gallienne‚ Richard, on


‘If I love you for a year I shall love you for ever,’ Narcissus had said to his Thirteenth Maid. He did love her so long, and yet he has gone away. Do you remember your Les Misérables, that early chapter where Valjean robs the child of his florin so soon after that great illuminating change of heart and mind had come to him? Well, still more important, do you remember the clue Hugo gives us to aberration? There is comfort and strength for so many a heart-breaking failure there. It was the old impetus, we are told, that was as yet too strong for the new control; the old instinct, too dark for the new light in the brain. It takes every vessel some time to answer to its helm; with us, human vessels, years, maybe. Have you never suddenly become sensitive of a gracious touch in the air, and pondered it, to recognise that in some half-unconscious act you had that moment been answering for the first time the helm of an almost forgotten resolution? Ah me, blessed is it to see the prow strongly sweeping up against the sky at last!

‘Send not a poet to London,’ said Heine, and it was a true word. At least, send him not till his thews are laced and his bones set. He may miss somewhat, of course; there is no gain without a loss. He may be in ignorance of the last nuance, and if he deserves fame he must gain it unaided of the vulgar notoriety which, if he have a friend or two in the new journalism, they will be so eager to bestow; but he will have kept his soul intact, which, after all, is the main matter. It is sweet, doubtless, to be one of those same mushroom-men, sweet to be placarded as ‘the new’ this or that, to step for a day into the triumphal car of newspaper renown, drawn by teams of willing paragraph-men who, does it never strike you? are but doing it all for hire, and earning their bread by their bent necks. Yet for those to whom it is denied there is solid comfort; for it is not fame, and, worse still, it is not life, ’tis but to be ‘a Bourbon in a crown of straws.’

If one could only take poor foolish Cockneydom right away outside this poor vainglorious city, and show them how the stars are smiling to themselves above it, nudging each other, so to say, at the silly lights that ape their shining for such a little while!

Yes, that is one danger of the poet in London, that he should come to think himself ‘somebody’; though, doubtless, in proportion as he is a poet, the other danger will be the greater, that he should deem himself ‘nobody.’ Modest by nature, credulous of appearances, the noisy pretensions of the hundred and one small celebrities, and the din of their retainers this side and that, in comparison with his own unattended course, what wonder if his heart sinks and he gives up the game; how shall his little pipe, though it be of silver, hope to be heard in this land of bassoons? To take London seriously is death both to man and artist. Narcissus had sufficient success there to make this a temptation, and he fell. He lost his hold of the great things of life, he forgot the stars, he forgot his love, and what wonder that his art sickened also. For a few months life was but a feverish clutch after varied sensation, especially the dear tickle of applause; he caught the facile atheistic flippancy of that poor creature, the ’modern young man,’ all-knowing and all-foolish, and he came very near losing his soul in the nightmare. But he had too much ballast in him to go quite under, and at last strength came, and he shook the weakness from him. Yet the fall had been too far and too cruel for him to be happy again soon. He had gone forth so confident in his new strength of manly love; and to fall so, and almost without an effort! Who has not called upon the mountains to cover him in such an hour of awakening, and who will wonder that Narcissus dared not look upon the face of Hesper till solitude had washed him clean, and bathed him in its healing oil? I alone bade him good-bye. It was in this room wherein I am writing, the study we had taken together, where still his books look down at me from the shelves, and all the memorials of his young life remain. O can it have been but ‘a phantom of false morning’? A Milton snatched up at the last moment was the one book he took with him.

From that night until this he has made but one sign a little note which Hesper has shown me, a sob and a cry to which even a love that had been more deeply wronged could never have turned a deaf ear. Surely not Hesper, for she has long forgiven him, knowing his weakness for what it was. She and I sometimes sit here together in the evenings and talk of him; and every echo in the corridor sets us listening, for he may be at the other side of the world, or but the other side of the street we know so little of his fate. Where he is we know not; but if he still lives, what he is we have the assurance of faith. This time he has not failed, we know. But why delay so long?

November 1889 May 1890. November 1894.