The Story of Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart
EVER since the appearance of little Opal’s diary in the Atlantic, the present reviewer has been going up and down through the world, north and south, proclaiming it the most amazing, the most beautiful, enchanting, and revealing discovery of many years. And now one hails with fresh delight the whole diary, out in book form, with its wood-green cover, and the introduction by Viscount Grey to do it honor.
To read this genuine diary, kept by a little girl during her sixth and seventh years, torn to fragments by a jealous foster-sister, and later pieced together again by the young author, is an event as startling and illuminating as ‘magic casements opening upon fairy lands.’ It is much more than a book: it is nothing short of a little miracle. There we have presented, with the perfect simplicity of childhood, the life of a little girl as she responds with an overflowing love and eagerness to the whole wonder of existence. The woods, the animals, flowers, and birds are her dearest loves; but she does not stop there, but pays the tribute of her ardent delight to the whole of life.
Perhaps the most amazing thing in all this amazing book is the child’s wide and catholic responsiveness. Nothing is too small, nothing too large, to claim her eager interest, beginning at one end of the scale with sticks and stones, wood, and potatoes, and going straight up to God. Things beautiful and happy she greets with joy; things sordid and unhappy she meets with an astounding endurance and tolerance.
If one were to review the book upon its literary merits, one might well call attention to many passages of quaint, but exquisite, poetic beauty; or to the sheer, unadorned tragedy of some of its pages. Personally, I hardly know of any picture in all literature more moving than that which this child of seven has drawn, with a few short, austere sentences, of herself sitting on the ground with her dying Peter Paul Rubens in her arms.
But it is hardly as a mere book that one thinks of it. It is so very much more than that. It is a great event, a deep spiritual experience, the rediscovery of a land which we have all known and all lost — the land of childhood. One cannot but wonder whether, in the years to come, this diary may not be looked upon as something on the order of the Rossetta Stone — a key by which one may gain a better understanding of the mystery of childhood.
Nothing quite like it has ever happened before, or is likely to happen again. The old discoverers unlocked treasures of the past that scarcely touch our everyday life; but here by this little miracle is a golden treasure of the present opened before us — the heart of childhood, into which we may enter, and going about softly and reverently, find an exquisite laughter, and things more poignant than tears, more beautiful and illuminating than words. M. P. M.