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A few days before, he had written a more serious letter to his friend, Mrs. Isabelle Dobbin, of Baltimore. The concluding words show his realization of the deeper meaning of childhood.
West Chester, August 18, 1880.
Here is come a young man so lovely in his person, and so gentle and high-born in his manners, that in the course of some three days he has managed to make himself as necessary to OUR world as the sun, moon, and stars; at any rate, these would seem quite obscured without him. It just so happens that he is very vividly associated with YOU; for among the few treasures we allowed ourselves to bring away from home is the photograph you gave us, and this stands in the most honorable coign of vantage in Mary's room.
. . . . .
You'll be glad to know that my dear Comrade is doing well. . . . We have reason to expect a speedy sight of our dear invalid moving about her accustomed ways again. If you could see the Boy asleep by her side! The tranquillity of his slumber, and the shine of his mother's eyes thereover, seem to melt up and mysteriously absorb the great debates of the agnostics, and of science and politics, and to dissolve them into the pellucid Faith long ago reaffirmed by the Son of Man. Looking upon the child, this term seems to acquire a new meaning, as if Christ were in some sort reproduced in every infant.
In the fall he was busy again with his books for boys, -- books, it may be said, that had their origin in the stories he told his own boys.* The spirit in which he worked on these "pot-boilers" is seen in a letter to his publisher, Mr. Charles Scribner: --
435 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md.,
My dear Mr. Scribner, -- You have certainly made a beautiful book of the "King Arthur", and I heartily congratulate you on achieving what seems to me a real marvel of bookmaking art. The binding seems even richer than that of the "Froissart"; and the type and printing leave a new impression of graciousness upon the eye with each reading.
I suspect there are few books in our language which lead a reader -- whether young or old -- on from one paragraph to another with such strong and yet quiet seduction as this. Familiar as I am with it after having digested the whole work before editing it and again reading it in proof -- some parts twice over -- I yet cannot open at any page of your volume without reading on for a while; and I have observed the same effect with other grown persons who have opened the book in my library since your package came a couple of days ago. It seems difficult to believe otherwise than that you have only to make the book well known in order to secure it a great sale, not only for the present year but for several years to come. Perhaps I may be of service in reminding you -- of what the rush of winter business might cause you to overlook -- that it would seem wise to make a much more extensive outlay in the way of special advertisement, here, than was necessary with the "Froissart". It is probably quite safe to say that a thousand persons are familiar with at least the name of Froissart to one who ever heard of Malory; and the facts (1) that this book is an English classic written in the fifteenth century; (2) that it is the very first piece of melodious English prose ever written, though melodious English POETRY had been common for seven hundred years before, -- a fact which seems astonishing to those who are not familiar with the circumstance that all nations appear to have produced good poetry a long time before good prose, usually a long time before ANY prose; (3) that it arrays a number of the most splendid ideals of energetic manhood in all literature; and (4) that the stories which it brings together and arranges, for the first time, have furnished themes for the thought, the talk, the poems, the operas of the most civilized peoples of the earth during more than seven hundred years, -- ought to be diligently circulated. I regretted exceedingly that I could not, with appropriateness to youthful readers, bring out in the introduction the strange melody of Malory's sentences, by reducing their movement to musical notation. No one who has not heard it would believe the effect of some of his passages upon the ear when read by any one who has through sympathetic study learned the rhythm in which he THOUGHT his phrases. . . .
In January, he began his lectures at Johns Hopkins. Who would have thought that a dying man could give expression to such vigorous ideas in such rhythmic and virile prose as are some of the passages in the "English Novel"? There is not the intellectual strength in this book that there is in the "Science of English Verse". There is more of a tendency to go off in digressions, "to talk away across country", and the whole lacks in unity and in scientific precision. But there are passages in it that men will not willingly let die. His discussion of the growth of personality, of the relations of Science, Art, Religion, and Life, of Walt Whitman and Zola, and above all, of George Eliot, are worthy of Lanier at his best. These passages and the still more important one on the relation of art to morals are too well known to be quoted; they will be considered in another chapter dealing with Lanier's work as critic. They are mentioned here only to show the range of Lanier's interest and the alertness of his mind when his body was fast failing.
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Sidney Lanier -by- Edwin Mims