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BY GEORGE MOORE
When Henry Vizetelly, that admirable scholar, historian, and journalist, was sent to prison for publishing Zola's novels mine were taken over by Walter Scott, and all were reprinted except "Spring Days." This book was omitted from the list of my acknowledged works, for public and private criticism had shown it no mercy; and I had lost faith in it. All the welcome it had gotten were a few contemptuous paragraphs scattered through the Press, and an insolent article in _The Academy_, which I did not see, but of which I was notified by a friend in the Strand at the corner of Wellington Street.
"Was the article a long one?"
"No, I don't think they thought your book worth slashing. All I can tell you is that if any book of mine had been spoken of in that way I should never write another."
I left my friend, hoping that the number of _The Academy_ would not fall into the hands of the editor of the great London review, to whom I had dedicated the book after a night spent listening to him quoting from the classics, Greek, English, and Latin. "A very poor testimony, one which he won't thank me for," I muttered, and stopped before St. Clement Danes to think what kind of letter he would write to me. But he did not even acknowledge through his secretary the copy I sent to him, and I accepted the rebuff without resentment, arguing that the fault was mine. "The proofs should have been submitted to him, but the printers were calling for them! There's no going back; the mischief is done," and I waited, putting my trust in time, which blots out all unfortunate things, "even dedications," I said.
Three months later, on opening my door one day, I found him standing with a common friend on the landing. I remember wondering what his reason was for bringing the friend, whether he had come as a sort of chaperon or witness. He left us after a few minutes, and I sat watching the great man of my imagination, asking myself if he were going to speak of "Spring Days," hoping that he would avoid the painful subject. The plot and the characters of my new book might please him. If he would only allow me to speak about it he might be persuaded to accept a second dedication as some atonement for the first.
"You were kind enough to dedicate your novel---"
"Yes, 'Spring Days.' I know that you wished to pay me a compliment, and if I didn't write before it was because----"
"Was it so very bad?"
A butty little man raised Oriental eyes and square hands in protest.
"You have written other books," he said, and proposed that we should go out together and walk in the Strand.
"Yes, 'The Confessions of a Young Man' was much liked here and in France. Will you let me give it to you?" We stopped at a book shop. "It will please you and help you to forget 'Spring Days.'" He smiled. "Never mention that book again," I added. "I wonder how I could have written it."
We were in a hansom; he turned his head and looked at me without attempting to answer my question; and from that day till six months ago my impulse was to destroy every copy that came my way. A copy of "Spring Days" excited in me an uncontrollable desire of theft, and whenever I caught sight of one in a friend's house I put it in my pocket without giving a thought to the inconvenience that the larceny might cause; the Thames received it, and I returned home congratulating myself that there was one copy less in the world of "Spring Days."
When the Boer War drove me out of London I said: "Dublin doesn't contain a copy of that book;" and for nearly eight years I was left in peace, only Edward Martyn teasing me, saying that one of these days he must read the book.
"R---- always says, 'I like "Spring Days".'"
"Insolent little ass," I answered, "I'll cut him dead when we meet again."
But Edward was not joking as I thought he was, and some time afterwards he told me that after a good deal of advertising he had succeeded in obtaining a copy of "Spring Days." The moment he left the room I searched the table and bookcase for it, but he kept it at Tillyra, else it would have gone into the Liffey, which receives all things.
"My dear George, I like the book better than any of your novels," he said one day on his return from Galway. "It is the most original, it is like no other novel, and that is why people didn't understand it."
Of course it was impossible to quarrel with dear Edward, but I wondered if I ever should find pleasure in speaking to him again; and when A. E. told me a few weeks later that he had come upon a novel of mine which he had never read before--"Spring Days," I said.
"Edward gave it to you?"
"No," he answered, "I haven't seen him for many months."
"The worst book I ever wrote." A. E. did not answer. "What do you think of it?" To my surprise I found him of the same opinion as Edward.
"My dear A. E., you know how I rely on your judgment. For twenty-five years I have refused to allow this book to be reprinted. Shall I relent?"
A. E. did not seem to think the book unworthy of me, and pressed me to read it.
"I'll lend you my copy."
I received it next day, but returned it to him unread, my courage having failed me at the last moment.
A few months later I met Richard Best, one of the librarians at the National Library. He had just returned from his holidays; he had been spending them in Wales for the sake of the language.
"By the way," he said, "I came across an old novel of yours--'Spring Days.'"
"You didn't like it?"
"On the contrary, I liked it as well, if not better, than any novel you have written. It is so entirely original. My wife... I think you value her opinion--"
"She liked it?"
"Come home with me, and she'll tell you how it struck her."
"I will, on one condition, that you don't mention that you spoke to me about the book."
Best promised, and we had not been many minutes in the house before Mrs. Best interrupted my remarks about the weather to tell me what she thought of "Spring Days."
"The matter is important. Sooner or later I shall have to think about a collected edition. Is it to be included?"
Mrs. Best, like A. E., offered to lend me her copy, but I could not bring myself to accept it, and escaped from the book till I came to live in London. Then Fate thrust it into my hands, the means employed being a woman to whom I had written for "Impressions and Opinions." She had lost her copy; there was, however, an old book of mine which she had never heard me speak of--"Spring Days"--and which, etc., she was sending me the book.
"Omens are omens," I muttered, "and there's no use kicking against the pricks eternally;" and cutting the string of the parcel I sat down to read a novel which I had kept so resolutely out of my mind for twenty- five years, that all I remembered of its story and characters was an old gentleman who lived in a suburb, and whose daughters were a great source of trouble to him. I met the style of the narrative as I might that of an original writer whose works I was unacquainted with. There was a zest in it, and I read on and on; I must have read for nearly two hours, which is a long read for me, laying the book aside from time to time, so that I might reflect at my ease on the tenacity with which it had clung to existence. Every effort had been made to drown it; again and again it had been flung into the river, literally and metaphorically, but it had managed to swim ashore like a cat. It would seem that some books have nine hundred and ninety and nine lives, and God knows how long my meditation might have lasted if the front door bell had not rung.
"Are you at home, sir, to Mr.--?"
There is time for one word more, dear reader, and whilst my visitor lays his hat and coat on the table in the passage I will beseech you not to look forward to a sentimental story; "Spring Days" is as free from sentiment or morals as Daphnis and Chloe.
"Miss, I'll have his blood; I will, miss, I will."
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