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A CHAPTER OF POETRY.
HAD known Pelican for some time, and had
become pretty well acquainted with the general bent of his nature, before I discovered that he was ever in the habit of writing verses, though one little characteristic of his induced me to think it probable that he sometimes—to use the language of our elegant ancestors
“courted the Muse.” He was very fond of reading aloud and reciting ; and I was very soon struck by the curious fact that any passage of marked picturesqueness or melody gave him not merely intellectual pleasure but vivid sensuous delight; a delight which, though more refined, was almost as entirely physical as that which gleams from the face of the gourmand when his palate first catches the flavour of his favourite dish. Now I have noted that every person I have met in whom this exceptional sensitiveness to certain literary delicacies exists, has what is vaguely called a poetical nature, which, if it express itself at all in any literary form, is almost certain, sooner or later, to attempt such expression in verse. I had therefore an impression, which gradually grew into a certainty, that the black box from which he had often taken prose manuscripts for my perusal, contained treasures of another kind to which I was yet a stranger; but I was equally certain that some day I should have a real knowledge of these effusions, whose
very existence was then only an unverified hypothesis.
Our acquaintance very quickly glided into an intimacy closer, I think, than either of us had previously entered into with any other living being. I found it a very pleasant experience; wonderfully pleasant; for there was between us just that union of sentiment which gives association all its charm, and that difference of opinion and temperament which preserves its freshness and vivacity. But though, as I have said, we often met, and I knew that he enjoyed the meetings, it never struck me that they possessed for him anything like the value they had for me; and, therefore, it was with a feeling of charmed surprise, not altogether unmingled with pride at seeing my critical prophecy fulfilled, that one evening when I came home from my work I found on the table an envelope containing a little poem addressed to me, offering his friendship and asking for mine, in words which were extravagant enough as applied to the receiver, but were by no means exaggerated expressions of the impulsive cordiality which Pelican often manifested, or of that intensity of emotion which he more rarely exhibited, but which constituted one of his greatest charms to the few who knew and loved him. At the foot of the sheet two or three sentences were added in pencil. “I could not help writing this.
Write me anything you please in answer, but don't say anything about it when we meet. There are some things one can only talk about sometimes. Think about it as much as you like, for it is true. I am your friend; let me be yours.”
Thus was our alliance fairly inaugurated by Pelican's verses, the pleasant flattery of which brought to me not only delight but a certain wholesome humiliation. I think it is always humbling to see a true friend's ideal of ourselves plainly set before us; for it seems so often belied by the lower reality which we know so well. And yet, after all, it is sometimes helpful to see a transfigured portrait of ourselves; for the likeness of us which our friends bear in their hearts when they love us most truly is not imaginary ; it is only ideal ; and we not only can make it real, but are bound so to make it by the most sacred of all obligations—the demand of affection.
According to Pelican's request I said not a word concerning the glimpse he had given me of that world, the existence of which I had suspected; but merely wrote a line or two of simple prose to tell him how glad his poem had made me, and how hearty was my response to his appeal. Nearly a month passed, and I was spending an evening with him, when he broke a somewhat long silence - by asking me if I were not very much surprised to find out that he sometimes tried to write poetry. “Not one whit," I answered, and then I told
him of my anticipations, and the grounds on which they were based. “Ah! that is curious,” he said; “I should not be surprised if your theory were sound. I have a sort of vague notion that if we really anticipate anything, whether good or evil, it is only fair that we should have it. I think the celebrated Irishman in the story got the right thing from the hand of Fate when his pig turned out so light. You remember what he said : "The pig didn't weigh so much as I expected, and I never thought it would.' What had been good expectations were swallowed up by evil thoughts, and he was well served. The moral of which is, that you have a right to see what I have got here.”
Whereupon he turned to the black box, and took from it a packet of papers, tied round with legal red tape, which he handed to me. “ You need not look at them now,” he said ; "you can take them home with you, and tell me what you think of them next time we meet. They are a strange lot. When you read some of them you will see how much I can trust you with.” I did not stay long with him that night, for I was anxious to inspect my new treasures. I soon saw, what he meant by his last sentence. Many of the poems were so imperfect in expression, and some few so entirely unreserved in their nature, that I saw, in his exhibition of them to me, the greatest proof he could give of the perfection of his confidence where it was once bestowed. As a matter of course they were all interesting to me,
and it is possible that the few I quote here may have some interest even for others. The incident which is versified in the first of these poems is, I believe, related in “Napier's History of the Administration in Scinde;" but Pelican found it in one of the published addresses of Frederick Robertson, of Brighton, where it is no doubt given correctly.