A Japanese Book-Lover
I KEEP them all on my desk, that little reception hall of polished oak, — or rather, that shrine where I, my hair rumpled, in my threadbare working coat, in slippers, and if clean, rugged as any mendicant, present myself to the muse; where I beg her to be friendly to me for a few hours every day, so that, when the Emma-o, that Autocrat of the Shadow World, would call me, I, Adachi Kinnosuké, might give some sort of account for the life that I had here below.
Well, they look quite as poverty-stricken as I do, these paper-covered books, — quite as rugged, abused, torn, worn, and shining with the light that is not of the Phidian marble ; quite as ready to give up the forlorn struggle of keeping themselves together, and threatening all the while to fly into pieces, as I. And no wonder ! I have read them twenty, fifty, a hundred times, and some of them I have handled every living day for these five years since I came to know, by an amazingly sad and slow process, what was good in letters.
By no means could you call it a disreputable company, this torn assembly of paper-covered books. The names they bear upon their backs —that is, those of them which still retain a certain shape of a back, whereupon you can fill your lazy hours in puzzling out the names of authors — are known in every corner of this world where literary art is held to be a somewhat better thing than a turnip or a hunk of bleeding flesh : Alphonse Daudet, Pierre Loti, Anatole France, Cervantes, Thackeray, Æschylus, — and if I add Shakespeare and Homer, it is not for a finishing touch of the snobbish style of a bookworm. Resting upon the shoulders of the books which bear the names that I have just mentioned, in fraternal communion with them, and in the most Bohemian brotherhood, reclines many a Nihonese volume, bearing such names as are not known to you, — names which some of you would like much to know, I have not the slightest doubt, — Basho, Bakin, Samma, Chikamatsu, Ikkyu ; but why should I puzzle you with a knotty string of meaningless names?
It is Sunday. Outside, the sky is sad and gray. It has been raining, and after the rain the atmosphere has in it that something which would have you to understand that autumn is now beginning to think seriously of winter. Beside me, in a jovial fireplace, laughing every time the gust loses its temper, careless flames are dancing light-heartedly, inviting you to look into them and see therein all sorts of things, scenes, and faces you have seen or dreamed; in short, the kaleidoscope of your memory.
And I sit down in front of the blaze with one of the paper-covered books in my hand, and so forget the world. When I fear that I am sinking too deep in the intoxication of my books, as a certain Nihonese poet used to do in that of his saké cup, then I turn from the printed charms to read the flaming hieroglyphics behind the fender of the fireplace; in truth, the burning pages, they are, of the romance of the Soul, whose author is the Great Unknown.
And I am perfectly happy.