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LIES OF FABLE AND ALLEGORY.
SOME little while ago the battered and shattered remains of an old bookcase with the sedimentary deposit of my own books, reached me after a journey of many hundred miles from its former resting place. The front of the bookcase is twisted wirework, which, when I remember it first, was lined with pink silk. Not a vestige, not a shred of the silk remains and the half dozen shelves now depend for preservation in position on a frame as crazy as Her Majesty's ship Victory, and certainly older. The bookcase had belonged to my grandfather before Trafalgar, and some of the books I found in it among the sediment were printed before the Great Fire of London. In all there were about a couple or three hundred books, none
of which would be highly valued by a bibliophile. Owing to my being in a very modest way a wanderer on the face of the realm, these books had been out of my possession for nearly twenty years, and dusty and dilapidated as they were when they reached me I took them in my arms as long-lost friends. I had finished the last sentence with the word children, but that would not do for two reasons. These books were not mine as this one I am now writing is, and long-lost children change more than they have changed, or more than friends change. Children grow and outpace us and leave us behind and are not so full of companionable memories as friends. There is hardly time to make friends of our adult children before we are beckoned away. The friends we make and keep when we are young have always twenty years' start of our children in friendship. A man may be friendly with his son of five but a father and son cannot be full friends until the son is twenty years older.
Again, as to the impropriety of speaking of the books as long-lost children I have
another scruple. I am in great doubt as to whether the recovery of a long-lost child is at all desirable. A long-lost child means a young girl or boy of our own who is lost when under ten years of age and recovered years afterwards.
I do not know that the recovery of the missing one is a cause of gratitude. Remember it is not at all the child we lost. It is a child alleged or alleging itself to be the child we lost. It is more correctly not a child at all, but a lad or lass whom we knew when young, and whose acquaintance we have to make over again. Our personality has become dim to it, and we have to occupy ourselves seriously in trying to identify the unwieldy bulk of the stranger with our memory of the wanderer, When the boy went from us we mourned for him as dead, and now he comes back to us from the tomb altered all out of memory. He is not wholly our child. There is an interregnum in our reign over him and we do not know what manner of king has held sway in our stead, or, if knowing the usurper, we cannot measure the extent or force of his
influence. How much of this young person is really our very own ? how much the development of untoward fate? Is the memory of our lost one dearer than the presence of this lad who is half stranger ? What we lost and mourned was ours surely; how much of what we have regained belongs to us? With books no such question arises. They
our very own. They have suffered no increment, but rather loss. What we remember of them and find again in them fills us with joy; what we have forgotten and recall excites a surprise which makes us feel rich. We reproach ourselves with not having loved them sufficiently well, and swear upon them to endow them with warmer affection henceforth. In turning over the books in the old case I lighted upon one which I believe to be the volume that came earlicst into my possession. It is Cobbett's Spelling-Book, and by the writing on the title page I see it was given to me by my father on the second of February, 1854. It is in a very battered and tattered condition. I find a youthful autograph of my own on the
fly-leaf, the Christian name occupying one line, the surname the second ; on a third line is the name of the town, and on a fourth the number of the street and part of the name of the street, the last being, I blush to say, ill-spelt. Surely there never was a book hated as I hated this one ! At that time I had declared my unalterable determination of never learning to read. I possessed, until recently, a copy of Valpy's Latin Grammar of about the same date, and I remember I worshipped the Latin Grammar compared with the Spelling-Book. I knew rosa before I could read words of two syllables, and at this moment I do not know much more Latin than I did then. The Spelling Book was published by Anne Cobbett, at 137, Strand, in 1849. It is almost incredible that so short a time ago the atrocious woodcuts could be got in England for love or money.
There is no attempt whatever at overlaying in the printing; the cut pages are all what are called "flat pulls." Here and there through the pages of chilling columns of words of one, two, three or
more syllables are pencil marks