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The Quest Of The Lost Digamma
by [?]

There were extra witches in Macbeth. Romeo and Juliet lived and the quarreling families were united. Desdemona remained un-smothered to the end. There was one stout author–but here I trust to memory–who even attempted to rescue Hamlet and to substitute for the distant rolling of the drum of Fortinbras, the pipes and timbrels of his happy wedding. There is yet to be made a lively paper of these Shakespeare tinkers of the eighteenth century.

And then John Timbs was to have been my text, who was an antiquary of the nineteenth century. I had come frequently on his books. They are seldom found in first-hand shops. More appropriately they are offered where the older books are sold–where there are racks before the door for the rakings of the place, and inside an ancient smell of leather. If there are barrels in the basement, stocked and overflowing, it is sure that a volume of Timbs is upon the premises.

I visited the Public Library and asked a sharp-nosed person how I might best learn about John Timbs. I followed the direction of his wagging thumb. The accounts of the encyclopedias are meager, a date of birth and of death, a few facts of residence, the titles of his hundred and fifty books, and little more. Some neglect him entirely; skipping lightly from Timbrel to Timbuctoo. Indeed, Timbuctoo turned up so often that even against my intention I came to a knowledge of the place. It lies against the desert and exports ostrich feathers, gums, salts and kola-nuts. Nor are timbrels to be scorned. They were used–I quote precisely–“by David when he danced before the ark.” Surely not Noah’s ark! I must brush up on David.

Timbs is matter for an engaging paper. His passion was London. He had a fling at other subjects–a dozen books or so–but his graver hours were given to the study of London. There is hardly a park or square or street, palace, theatre or tavern that did not yield its secret to him. Here and there an upstart building, too new for legend, may have had no gossip for him, but all others John Timbs knew, and the personages who lived in them. And he knew whether they were of sour temper, whether they were rich or poor, and if poor, what shifts and pretenses they practiced. He knew the windows of the town where the beaux commonly ogled the passing beauties. He knew the chatter of the theatres and of society. He traced the walls of the old city, and explored the lanes. Unless I am much mistaken, there is not a fellow of the Dunciad to whom he has not assigned a house. Nor is any man of deeper knowledge of the clubs and coffee-houses and taverns. One would say that he had sat at Will’s with Dryden, and that he had gone to Button’s arm in arm with Addison. Did Goldsmith journey to his tailor for a plum-colored suit, you may be sure that Timbs tagged him at the elbow. If Sam Johnson sat at the Mitre or Marlowe caroused in Deptford, Timbs was of the company. There has scarcely been a play acted in London since the days of Burbage which Timbs did not chronicle.

But presently I gave up the study of John Timbs. Although I had accumulated interesting facts about him, and had got so far as to lay out several amusing paragraphs, still I could not fit them together to an agreeable result. It was as though I could blow a melodious C upon a horn, and lower down, after preparation, a dulcet G, but failed to make a tune of them.

But although my studies so far have been unsuccessful, doubtless I shall persist. Even now I have several topics in mind that may yet serve for pleasant papers. If I fail, it will be my comfort that others far better than myself achieve but a half success. Although the digamma escapes our salt, somewhere he lurks on the lonely mountains. And often when our lamps burn late, we fancy that we catch a waving of his tail and hear him padding across the night. But although we lash ourselves upon the chase and strain forward in the dark, the timid beast runs on swifter feet and scampers off.