Books Within Books

— I frequently recall what a great novelist once said to me, — that there was something in her inkstand not to be commanded. No matter what form her plot had assumed before she took pen in hand, the moment the little instrument began its task new and devious ways of thought opened, and faces previously unseen presented themselves, until a tale quite different from the one first purposed took shape and would be told.

Even the reader has a touch of this experience. A book which interests him deeply often has another book grow up between the lines, and carry him along into paths unknown to the writer of the printed page. Perhaps this is the noblest tribute the mind can pay an author, to be thus animated by his work, but the reader often finds himself far afield. Points are suggested to him as salient which were far from being prominent in the writer’s mind; indeed, I fancy that nothing would more surprise Shakespeare, could he return to our modern world, than the suggestions which have been derived from his text.

I have had a touch of this experience lately in reading a story called The Children of Gibeon, by Walter Besant, where he portrays two young ladies who have grown up side by side, with the same education, the one of noble family, the other of low parentage — both being unaware of their extraction. They are taken to the scenes which surrounded the birth of one of them. The effect produced upon the two girls offers the sharpest contrast. One draws back in horror and disgust from the life and environment of a poor sewing-girl, their sister; the other is animated by a desire to go and live near her, and help her and her companions out of the miseries which encompass them. The author does not dilate nor philosophize upon this difference, but simply discovers, when the moment arrives, that it is the lady’s daughter who has gone down to live in Ivy Lane with the sewing-girls, and it is the daughter of the washerwoman who is made miserable by the sight of wretchedness.

We could easily forgive the author of this excellent story if he had enlarged upon this fact, but he does not. He leaves the moral unwritten for his readers to develop.

I wish he had said: Let us look on this picture, and see that real nobility dreads no dark places, no disease, no death; only the thought that life may not be long enough to succor those who are in misery.