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To An Unknown Reader
by [?]

Being swept once beyond a usual caution, I lamented to my friend F—- of the neglect in which readers held me, to which the above experience in a library was a rare exception. F—- offered me such consolation as he could, deplored the general taste and the decadence of the times, and said that as praise was sweet to everyone, he, as far as he himself was able, offered it anonymously to those who merited it. He was standing recently in a picture gallery, when a long-haired man who stood before one of the pictures was pointed out to him as the artist who had painted it. At once F—- saw his opportunity to confer a pleasure, but as there is a touch of humor in him, he first played off a jest. Lounging forward, he dropped his head to one side as artistic folk do when they look at color. He made a knot-hole of his fingers and squinted through. Next he retreated across the room and stood with his legs apart in the very attitude of wisdom. He cast a stern eye upon the picture and gravely tapped his chin. At last when the artist was fretted to an extremity, F—- came forward and so cordially praised the picture that the artist, being now warmed and comforted, presently excused himself in a high excitement and rushed away to start another picture while the pleasant spell was on him.

Had I been the artist, I would have run from either F—-‘s praise or disapproval. As an instance, I saw a friend on a late occasion coming from a bookstore with a volume of suspicious color beneath his arm. I had been avoiding that particular bookstore for a week because my book lay for sale on a forward table. And now when my friend appeared, a sudden panic seized me and I plunged into the first doorway to escape. I found myself facing a soda fountain. For a moment, in my blur, I could not account for the soda fountain, or know quite how it had come into my life. Presently an interne–for he was jacketted as if he walked a hospital–asked me what I’d have.

Still somewhat dazed, in my discomposure, having no answer ready, my startled fancy ran among the signs and labels of the counter until I recalled that a bearded man once, unblushing in my presence, had ordered a banana flip. I got the fellow’s ear and named it softly. Whereupon he placed a dead-looking banana across a mound of ice-cream, poured on colored juices as though to mark the fatal wound and offered it to me. I ate a few bites of the sickish mixture until the streets were safe.

I do not know to what I can attribute my timidity. Possibly it arises from the fact that until recently my writing met with uniform rejection and failure. For years I wrote secretly in order that few persons might know how miserably I failed. I answered upon a question that I had given up the practice, that I now had no time for it, that I scribbled now and then but always burned it. All that while I gave my rare leisure and my stolen afternoons–the hours that other men give to golf and sleep and sitting together–these hours I gave to writing. On a holiday I was at it early. On Saturday when other folks were abroad, I sat at my desk. It was my grief that I was so poor a borrower of the night that I blinked stupidly on my papers if I sat beyond the usual hour. Writing was my obsession. I need no pity for my failures, for although I tossed my cap upon a rare acceptance, my deeper joy was in the writing. That joy repeated failures could not blunt.

There are paragraphs that now lie yellow in my desk with their former meaning faded, that still recall as I think of them the first exaltation when I wrote them–feverishly in a hot emotion. In those days I thought that I had caught the sunlight on my pen, and the wind and the moon and the spinning earth. I thought that the valleys and the mountains arose from the mist obedient to me. If I splashed my pen, in my warm regard it was the roar and fury of the sea. It was really no more than my youth crying out. And, alas, my thoughts and my feelings escaped me when I tried to put them down on paper, although I did not know it then. Perhaps they were too vagrant to be held. And yet these paragraphs that might be mournful records of failure, fill me with no more than a tender recollection for the boy who wrote them. The worn phrases now beg their way with broken steps. Like shrill and piping minstrels they whine and crack a melody that I still remember in its freshness.