One bright June morning a young man, who happened to be waiting at a rural station to take a train, discovered one of the foremost of American writers, who was, all things considered, perhaps the most richly cultivated man whom the country has yet produced, sitting on the steps intent upon a book, and entirely oblivious of his surroundings. The young man’s reverence for the poet and critic filled him with desire to know what book had such power of beguiling into forgetfulness one of the noblest minds of the time. He affirmed within himself that it must be a novel. He ventured to approach near enough to read the title, holding, rightly enough, that a book is not personal property, and that his act involved no violation of privacy. He discovered that the great man was reading a Greek play with such relish and abandon that he had turned a railway station into a private library! One of the foremost of American novelists, a man of real literary insight and of genuine charm of style, says that he can write as comfortably on a trunk in a room at a hotel, waiting to be called for a train, as in his own library. There is a good deal of discipline behind such a power of concentration as that illustrated in both these cases; but it is a power which can be cultivated by any man or woman of resolution. Once acquired, the exercise of it becomes both easy and delightful. It transforms travel, waiting, and dreary surroundings into one rich opportunity. The man who has the “Tempest” in his pocket, and can surrender himself to its spell, can afford to lose time on cars, ferries, and at out-of-the-way stations; for the world has become an extension of his library, and wherever he is, he is at home with his purpose and himself.
Meditation and Imagination.
There is a book in the British Museum which would have, for many people, a greater value than any other single volume in the world; it is a copy of Florio’s translation of Montaigne, and it bears Shakespeare’s autograph on a flyleaf. There are other books which must have had the same ownership; among them were Holinshed’s “Chronicles” and North’s translation of Plutarch. Shakespeare would have laid posterity under still greater obligations, if that were possible, if in some autobiographic mood he had told us how he read these books; for never, surely, were books read with greater insight and with more complete absorption. Indeed, the fruits of this reading were so rich and ripe that the books from which their juices came seem but dry husks and shells in comparison. The reader drained the writer dry of every particle of suggestiveness, and then recreated the material in new and imperishable forms. The process of reproduction was individual, and is not to be shared by others; it was the expression of that rare and inexplicable personal energy which we call genius; but the process of absorption may be shared by all who care to submit to the discipline