Зображення сторінки

from the average reader. It was inevitable to her to run on into the merely accurate data prized by the historian and genealogist alone. Who can expect the modern spirit, prey to one sociological germ after another, to find antidote in the obscurities of seventeenth century English? Yet she never veered from the natal bent of her trained mind. Still was she the indomitable knight errant of letters. She had to go on rescuing though the damsels she delivered died on her hands. Where did her anxiety of pains find its limit? not with the printing: there she had always striven untiringly for perfection of form, unblemished accuracy. One remembers exhaustive talks with her on the subtleties of punctuation. The Wye Valley, the Devon lanes, were vocal, in that summer of 1895, with precepts of typography. The colon especially engaged the attention of these perfervid artisans. Was it not, this capricious and yet most responsive of all marks of punctuation, widely neglected in its supremest subtlety? Something of this argumentation was after

ward echoed in her paper on Lionel Johnson:

"Nothing was trivial to this 'enamoured architect' of perfection. He cultivated a half mischievous attachment to certain antique forms of spelling, and to the colon, which our slovenly press will have none of; and because the colon stands for fine differentiations and sly sequences, he delighted 'especially to employ it."

There were serious conclaves, in those years, when excerpts for the Pilgrim Scrip, a magazine of travel, were concerned, whether a man's punctuation, being the reflex of his own individuality, should not be preserved in exactness. An English essayist of the nomad type, who was a very fiend of eccentricity, proved an undevoured bone of contention. His stops were enough to make the typographically judicious grieve. But had not he his own idea of the flow of his prose, and should not his punctuation be inviolate? Her own corrected proofs were a discipline to the uninitiate in scholarly ways, a despair, no doubt, to the indurated printer, and her ruth

lessness toward her own work such as Roman and Spartan parents would have gasped at and found themselves too lax to emulate. Yet through these excesses of literary precision she went merrily. She was no Roundhead of the pen, taking her task in sadness. The ordinary proof reader, of set intentions and literal meanings, was her delight. In Songs at the Start is the line:

“O the oar that was once so merry!"

One of the battles she fought untiringly was over the vocative O, contending that it should never be followed by the intrusive comma. Yet the comma would sneak in,

(“Abra was ready ere I called her name;
And though I called another, Abra came!")

and in this case author and printer had fought it out, forward and back, unwearied play of rapier and bludgeon, until she wrote, properly enisled in the margin, after the careted O: "no comma." And behold! the line appeared, in the final proof :

“O no comma the oar that was once so merry!'


And when, after another tussle with her mulish adversary, she thought she had him, the book itself fell open in her hand at his victorious finale:

“O no, the oar that was once so merry!" The tale of her defeat was perennially delightful to her. She was never tired of telling it.

Once, quoting the line: "Hoyden May threw her wild mantle on the

hawthorn tree,” she was enraptured to see the innocent hawthorn walking back to her personified into “hoyden Mary.” The vision of hoyden Mary, concrete as Audrey and her turnip, was thenceforth one of the character studies on her comedy stage. Her own copies of her books were flecked with spear dints from the battles she had waged in their doing and undoing. The "passion for perfection" left her in no security in an end seemingly attained. Her pen knew no finalities. When she had reached the goal and you ran to crown her, she simply turned about to go over

the course again at a more uniform pace or with a prettier action. Her biographical and critical work was never finished, even when it reached the final fastnesses of print. A new shade of insight would be cast by some small leaf of data just sprung up, to be noted in the margin. And how moved she was over the restoration of an old word to active use or shy experiment with one of valid lineage yet unaccustomed form! One remembers serious, even anxious, conversation with her on the word "stabile.” It was more poetic than other derivatives of the same root and had a subtly dignified access of meaning. Should it be used? Could one venture? And she did use it in the first printing of what became the last Oxford Sonnet, only, in her anxious precision, to revert to the authorized "stable" in the last printing of all.

Of her one book of stories, Lovers' Saint Ruth (1894) written in a rather wistful response to optimistic persuasion, she says:

“I had no hold whatever on narrative."

And how should she have taken hold on beguiling and effective drama, she whose

« НазадПродовжити »