The isles of Greece, the isles
Where burning Sappho loved and sung.
He caught his breath. It was extraordinary. What the dickens was it? A vision of exquisite and unearthly and brilliantly coloured beauty seemed to be before his eyes. Islands, all white and green and in a sea of terrific blue.... And music, the thin note of distant trumpets.... Amazing! He read on. “Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung! Eternal Summer gilds them yet.” Terrific, but not quite so terrific. And then again the terrific, the stunning, the heart-clutching thing. On a different note, with a different picture, coloured in grays.
The mountains look on Marathon—
And Marathon looks on the sea.
Music! The trumpets thinned away, exquisitely thin, tiny, gone! And high above the mountains and far upon the sea an organ shook.
He said, “Well, I’m dashed!” and put the book away.
It was years after the Byron episode—after he had come down from Cambridge, after he had travelled fairly widely, and luckily, as tutor to a delicate boy, and after he had settled down, from his father’s house at Chovensbury, to learn the Fortune, East and Sabre business that he began to collect the books which now formed his collection. His intense fondness for books had come to him late in life, as love of literature goes. He was reading at twenty-eight and thirty literature which, when it is read at all, is as a rule read ten years younger because the taste is there and is voracious for satisfaction,—as a young and vigorous animal for its meals. But at twenty-eight and thirty, reading for the first time, he read sometimes with a sense of revelation, always with an enormous satisfaction. Especially the poets. And constantly in the poets he was coming across passages the sheer beauty of which shook him precisely as the Byron lines had first shaken him.
His books appeared to indicate a fair number and a fair diversity of interests; but their diversity presented to him a common quality or group of qualities. Some history, some sociology, some Spencer, some Huxley, some Haeckel, a small textbook of geology, a considerable proportion of pure literature, Morley’s edition of lives of literary men, the English essayists in a nice set, Shakespeare in many forms and so much poetry that at a glance his library was all poetry. All the books were picked up at second-hand dealers’ in Tidborough, none had cost more than a few shillings. The common quality that bound them was that they stirred in him imaginative thought: they presented images, they suggested causes, they revealed processes; the common group of qualities to which they ministered were beauty and mystery, sensibility and wonder. They made him think about things, and he liked thinking about things; the poets filled his mind with beauty, and he was strangely stirred by beauty.