Alexander Anderson

(1845-1909 / Scotland)

Books


'The beings of the mind are not of clay;
Essentially immortal, they create
And multiply in us a brigher ray,
And more beloved existence.'—Childe Harold


'Un bon livre est un bon ami.'—B. de Saint Pierre

I have a little world within my home—
A world that cannot die though ages roam;
For thought is king, and, with eternal sway,
Rules on while earthly monarchs pass away.
Change cannot touch him, and the dust that springs
From dull Time's duller footsteps never clings
To dim the glitter of his brow, but bright
It shines for ever, and can feel no night.


A world it is in which, with open looks
(I call them friends, but others call them books),
Are ministers that, at a moment's wish,
Pour forth their treasures with a quiet gush
Into the heart, until their gentle balm
Spreads round, and scatters universal calm.


There our own Shakespeare, with a mightier wand
Than ever his own wise Prospero could command,
Wakes from their slumbers all the mighty great
That shook a kingdom or could rule a State;
Infuses life into each silent form,
And places each to move in calm and storm.
What power the mighty master had, to frame
A vanish'd time, and make it breathe the same!
From the fool's babble to the kingly throne
He moves, the enchanter of such space, alone.


Who comes, in Learning's silent chambers nursed,
A second Homer, blind as was the first?
Milton, the Cyclops of a darkness given,
To fit his harp to sing of hell and heaven.
Hear him, and let all other lyres be mute.
'Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit,
Sing, Heavenly Muse;' and sing, O, sing again
The earthly love that sire's a heavenly strain.


Next, dwarf'd in figure, but of giant brain,
Comes Pope, the stinger in heroic strain.
Where'er he moves his vigour follows still,
Which even in little things must show its skill.
Whether he steals a lady's tress, or hurls
A hundred would-be poets, with their curls,
Into oblivion, he is still the same,
The dreaded cut-throat that can stab a name.
He moves in might, and I must read his strains,
To feel myself a dunce for all my pains.
What wondrous puppet show is this I see?
A hundred Lilliputs around my knee,
Moving so real and life-like to my view,
I never ask myself, 'Can this be true?'
Who moves the wires that guide these little things?
A master perfect in the heart's deep springs—
A lone old man, whose worn and tortured breast
Knew every passion save the high and best.
I will not smile, but let the pageant glide,
And weep for genius when it steps aside.


What noise is this I hear, and broken words
That seem to sound like guns and drums and swords?
'Tis Uncle Toby and his worthy Trim,
Talking of sieges and of horrors grim.
I will not speak, but let the couple pass,
While Widow Wadman stands before the glass
Touching her beauty, with a matron's art,
To gull my Uncle Toby's simple heart.


Who steps before me next with smiling brow,
And bosom beating with fraternal glow?
Why, Parson Adams; and he shakes my hand
So kindly, as we both together stand,
Then, all unwitting of my presence near,
Draws out his Æschylus he holds most dear,
Begins to read, and so I gently speak,
'Good Parson Adams, I have not the Greek.'
He puts away the book, and asks the lend
Of half-a-crown—it is to help a friend.
I give it to him, and, as he departs,
I bless the simple Parson's simple arts.


With jaunty bearing and affected mien,
Who comes in haste to fill the changing scene?
Beau Tibbs, and with him, too, the grave Chinese,
Who writes to Fum Hoam what he hears and sees.
Beau Tibbs espies me, and, with studied tact,
Hastens a sudden friendship to contract,
Talks much of Wakefield's Vicar, and I budge
A step or two away, and mutter 'Fudge!'
Invites me to his house, which I decline;
'Your time is short,' he says, 'and so is mine.
Good-bye.' He waves a brisk salute, and stalks
Away to wander in his favourite walks.


Furrow'd in brow, and beard as white as snow,
Yet eye that glitters with a youthful glow,
Comes one whom I at once pronounce to be
The Mariner, to tell his tale to me.
What care I for his ship in tropic day?
I will not hear him, but will slip away.
In vain; he holds me, and, with wizard skill,
Tells on his tale—'the Mariner hath his will.'


O for a wing of mighty flight to fly
And view Lake Leman with Childe Harold's eye,
Catch all at once the sunny space of sea,
And feel its inspiration rise to me;
Walk in the spirit with that mighty mind
Who drew the gloomy bosoms of his kind
Till calumny, with narrow serpent view,
Whisper'd he sat himself for what he drew,
And foul suspicion, ever prone to fill
Shadow with substance, haunts his spirit still!


With child-like features, and a wondering look
Bent evermore upon an open'd book,
Comes Shelley, clear and cold in that high faith
Which is not for this world nor human breath,
But some far fairy clime. He speaks, and lo!
I talk with Julian and Madalo,
Lie with Prometheus upon the rock,
And for a moment brave the vulture's shock,
Then mourn for Adonaïs—he who sung
The Pagan wonders when the world was young,
Or shudder at the Cenci's awful mind,
And all the demon madness there design'd—
But hush! he passes on to meet the wild
Deep waters and become the 'eternal child.'


What grey-hair'd man is this who sits and sees
His dogs around him gambol at their ease?
'Tis Scott, the wizard, who can charm all time
With lays of minstrels and rough Border rhyme;
Shakespeare in prose, he lifts his magic wand,
And lo! beneath the skill at his command,
Kings start and mighty warriors, till we feel
Our spirit breathing in an age of steel,
And pant and glow to join the tourney's shock,
When lances splinter and the chargers rock.
See Wilfred, with Rowena by his side,
Rebecca drooping in her maiden pride,
Cedric, and Wamba with his jesting art,
De Bracy, Richard of the lion heart,
Bold Robin Hood, exempt from every law,
Twanging his merry bow in 'greenwoode schawe,'
Stern Front de Boeuf. These pass and leave their room
To others bright in robe and gay in plume—
Leicester, sweet Amy, England's frigid Queen,
Our hapless Mary, bright in beauty's mien,
Dark Ravenswood, rough Burley, great Dundee,
Vich Ian Vohr, Prince Charles, high and free,
Captain Dirk Hatteraick, and Meg Merrilees,
The Dominie, all agape at what he sees,
Who, as he moves his lank and learnèd frame,
Shouts out 'Pro-di-gi-ous,' and I do the same.


Who would not bless and praise the humorous skill
Of he who with a sketch can tickle still?—
Dickens, whose fertile brain has given to Time
(Time gets such gifts that makes him all sublime)
Sam Weller, Peggoty, that honest life,
John Peerybingle, Dot, his little wife;
Meek, patient Agnes, in her purity
Of thought and life—thus should fair woman be.
O bright creations that for ever rise
Before us, claiming all our sympathies,
Eternal in their youth they cannot die,
But, soul-like, live in immortality.


Who sings the upright Arthur and his time
In purest English and in clearest rhyme?
'Tis he who wears the laurel none can claim
Until their lyres are fit to sound the same.
I see gay Lancelot, tough at sword and spear;
He bows, and looks askance on Guinevere;
And naughty Vivien, what a mess you made
Of poor old Merlin in the woodland shade;
Elaine, still pining all her truth to prove,
Brave Geraint, Enid in her patient love;
And last, King Arthur, ere he joins the strife,
Bending above his prostrate, guilty wife,
Half stern in ire, yet wishing naught to prove,
She owning all, as to win back his love.
These fade away, but to return when I
Am all alone, and wish their presence nigh;
They come unchanged, for years make ever bright
The forms that genius gives to thought and light.


O glorious books, whose silent-worded leaves
Have balm for cypress'd Sorrow when she grieves;
Smiles for fair Hope, and worn and drooping Care;
Flowers for the gloom that lies before Despair—
Our friends are ye, that through all good and ill
Keep your sweet faiths the same to cheer us still,
Filling our solitude with shapes and things
That wait upon us with their ministerings,
Serene and calm in their own quiet art;
They touch us, and we clasp them heart-to-heart,
Until their being knits itself to ours,
And half our own is given to grace their pow'rs,
Twin'd to their friendship, which we hold above
All others, since it cannot change its love.

Submitted: Tuesday, March 04, 2014
Edited: Tuesday, March 04, 2014

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