That sly rogue Pepys, of course, is there—more thumb-stained than any of them except Bozzy. What a miracle is this man who lives more vividly in our eyes than any creature that ever walked the earth! What was the secret of his magic? Is it not this, that he succeeded in putting down on paper the real truth about himself? A small thing? Well, you try it. You will find it the hardest job you have ever tackled. No matter what secrecy you adopt you will discover that you cannot tell yourself the whole truth about yourself. Pepys did that. Benvenuto Cellini pretended to do that, but I refuse to believe the fellow. Benjamin Franklin tried to do it and very nearly succeeded. St. Augustine was frank enough about his early wickedness, but it was the overcharged frankness of the subsequent saint. No, Pepys is the man. He did the thing better than it has ever been done in this world.
I like to have the Paston Letters at my bedside, too. Then I go off to sleep again in the fifteenth century with the voice of old Agnes Paston sounding in my ears. Dead half a thousand years, yet across the gulf of time I hear the painful scratching of her quill as she sends “Goddis blyssyng” to her son in London, and tells him all her motherly gossip and makes the rough life of far-off Tudor England live for ever. Dear old Agnes! She little thought as she struggled with her spelling and her pen that she was writing something that was immortal. If she had known, I don’t think she would have bothered. She was a very matter-of-fact old lady, and was too full of worries to have much room for vanities.
I should like to say more about my bedside friends—strapping George Borrow sitting with Petulengro’s sister under the hedge or fighting the Flaming Tinman; the dear little Boston doctor who talks so chirpily over the Breakfast Table; the Compleat Angler that takes you out into an eternal May morning, and Sainte-Beuve whom I have found a first-rate bedside talker. But I must close.
There is one word, however, to be added. Your bedside friends should be dressed in soft leather and printed on thin paper. Then you can talk to them quite snugly. It is a great nuisance if you have to stick your arms out of bed and hold your hands rigid.
A friend of mine calling to see me the other day and observing my faithful Airedale—“Quilp” by name—whose tail was in a state of violent emotion at the prospect of a walk, remarked that when the new taxes came in I should have to pay a guinea for the privilege of keeping that dog. I said I hoped that Mr. McKenna would do nothing so foolish. In fact, I said, I am sure he will do nothing so foolish. I know him well, and I have always found him a sensible man. Let him, said I, tax us all fairly according to our incomes, but why should he interfere with the way in which we spend the money that he leaves us? Why should he deny the friendship of that most friendly animal the dog to a poor man and make it the exclusive possession of the well-to-do?