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WHAT IS IT WORTH?
Andrew, with all his hard work, harder since Sandy went, continued able to write, for he neither sought company nor drank strong drink, and was the sport of no passion. From threatened inroad he appealed to Him who created to lift His child above the torrent, and make impulse the slave of conscience and manhood. There were no demons riding the whirlwinds of his soul. It is not wonderful then that he should be able to write a book, or that the book should be of genuine and original worth. It had the fortune to be "favorably" reviewed, scarce one of those who reviewed it understanding it, while all of them seemed to themselves to understand it perfectly. I mention the thing because, had the book not been thus reviewed, Alexa would not have bought a copy, or been able to admire it.
The review she read was in a paper whose editor would not have admitted it had he suspected the drift which the reviewer had failed to see; and the passages quoted appealed to Alexa in virtue, partly, of her not seeing half they involved, or anything whatever of the said drift. But because he had got a book published, and because she approved of certain lines, phrases and passages in it; but chiefly because it had been praised by more than one influential paper, Andrew rose immensely in Alexa's opinion. Although he was the son of a tenant, was even a laborer on his farm, and had covered a birth no higher than that of Jesus Christ with the gown of no university, she began, against her own sense of what was fit, to look up to the plow-man. The plow-man was not aware of this, and would have been careless had he been. He respected his landlord's daughter, not ever questioned her superiority as a lady where he made no claim to being a gentleman, but he recognized in her no power either to help or to hurt.
When they next met, Alexa was no longer indifferent to his presence, and even made a movement in the direction of being agreeable to him. She dropped in a measure, without knowing she had ever used it, her patronizing carriage, but had the assurance to compliment him not merely on the poem he had written, but on the way it had been received; she could not have credited, had he told her, that he was as indifferent to the praise or blame of what is called the public, as if that public were indeed--what it is most like--a boy just learning to read. Yet it is the consent of such a public that makes the very essence of what is called fame. How should a man care for it who knows that he is on his way to join his peers, to be a child with the great ones of the earth, the lovers of the truth, the Doers of the Will. What to him will be the wind of the world he has left behind, a wind that can not arouse the dead, that can only blow about the grave-clothes of the dead as they bury their dead.
"Live, Dawtie," said Andrew to the girl, "and ane day ye'll hae yer hert's desire; for 'Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness.'"
Andrew was neither annoyed nor gratified with the compliments Alexa paid him, for she did not know the informing power of the book--what he cared for in it--the thing that made him write it. But her gentleness and kindness did please him; he was glad to feel a little at home with her, glad to draw a little nearer to one who had never been other than good to him. And then was she not more than kind, even loving to Dawtie?
"So, Andrew, you are a poet at last," she said, holding out her hand to him, which Andrew received in a palm that wrote the better verse that it was horny. "Please to remember I was the first that found you out!" she added.
"I think it was my mother," answered Andrew.
"And I would have helped you if you would have let me."
"It is not well, ma'am, to push the bird off because he can't sit safe on the edge of the nest."
"Perhaps you are right A failure then would have stood in the way of your coming fame."
"Oh, for that, ma'am, believe me, I do not care a short straw."
"What do you not care for?"
"That is wrong, Andrew. We ought to care what our neighbors think of us."
"My neighbors did not set me to do the work, and I did not seek their praise in doing it. Their friendship I prize dearly--more than tongue can tell."
"You can not surely be so conceited, Andrew, as to think nobody capable of judging your work."
"Far from it, ma'am. But you were speaking of fame, and that does not come from any wise judgment."
"Then what do you write for, if you care nothing for fame? I thought that was what all poets wrote for."
"So the world thinks; and those that do sometimes have their reward."
"Tell me then what you write for?"
"I write because I want to tell something that makes me glad and strong. I want to say it, and so try to say it. Things come to me in gleams and flashes, sometimes in words themselves, and I want to weave them into a melodious, harmonious whole. I was once at an oratorio, and that taught me the shape of a poem. In a pause of the music, I seemed all at once to see Handel's heavy countenance looking out of his great wig, as he sat putting together his notes, ordering about in his mind, and fixing in their places with his pen, his drums, and pipes, and fiddles, and roaring bass, and flageolets, and hautboys--all to open the door for the thing that was plaguing him with the confusion of its beauty. For I suppose even Handel did not hear it all clear and plain at first, but had to build his orchestra into a mental organ for his mind to let itself out by, through the many music holes, lest it should burst with its repressed harmonic delights. He must have felt an agonized need to set the haunting angels of sound in obedient order and range, responsive to the soul of the thing, its one ruling idea! I saw him with his white rapt face, looking like a prophet of the living God sent to speak out of the heart of the mystery of truth! I saw him as he sat staring at the paper before him, scratched all over as with the fury of a holy anger at his own impotence, and his soul communed with heavenliest harmonies! Ma'am, will any man persuade me that Handel at such a moment was athirst for fame? or that the desire to please a house full or world full of such as heard his oratorios, gave him the power to write his music? No, ma'am! he was filled, not with the longing for sympathy, and not even with the good desire to give delight, but with the music itself. It was crying in him to get out, and he heard it crying, and could not rest till he had let it out; and every note that dropped from his pen was a chip struck from the granite wall between the song-birds in their prison-nest, and the air of their liberty. Creation is God's self-wrought freedom. No, ma'am, I do not despise my fellows, but neither do I prize the judgment of more than a few of them. I prize and love themselves, but not their opinion."
Alexa was silent, and Andrew took his leave. She sat still for awhile thinking. If she did not understand, at least she remembered Andrew's face as he talked: could presumption make his face shine so? could presumption make him so forget himself?
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