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I cannot recall now many of the titles of the books I read, I devouredthem so fast, and the title and the author's name in thosedays seemed a mere inscription on the door to delay me in gettingdown to business. There was a work, in two volumes, upon thecountries of the world, which I think must have been made ofbound up fortnightly parts. It was illustrated with woodcuts, thephotogravure had still to come in those days, and it took me toTibet, China, the Rocky Mountains, the forests of Brazil, Siam anda score of other lands. I mingled with Indians and naked negroes;I learnt about whaling and crossed the drift ice with Esquimaux.There was Wood's Natural History, also copiously illustrated andfull of exciting and terrifying facts. I conceived a profound fear ofthe gorilla, of which there was a fearsome picture, which came outof the book at times after dark and followed me noiselessly aboutthe house. The half landing was a favourite lurking place for thisterror. I passed it whistling, but wary and then ran for my life upthe next flight. And I was glad to think that between the continentalland masses of the world, which would have afforded an unbrokenland passage for wolves from Russia and tigers from India, and thissafe island on which I took my daily walks, stretched the impassablemoat of the English Channel. I read too in another book about thedistances of the stars, and that seemed to push the All Seeing Eyevery agreeably away from me. Turning over the pages of the NaturalHistory, I perceived a curious relationship between cats and tigersand lions and so forth, and to a lesser degree between them andhyenas and dogs and bears, and between them again and otherquadrupeds, and curious premonitions of evolution crept into mythoughts. Also I read the life of the Duke of Wellington and aboutthe American Civil War, and began to fight campaigns and battlesin my reveries. At home were the works of Washington Irving andI became strangely familiar with Granada and Columbus and theCompanions of Columbus. I do not remember that any story booksfigured during this first phase of reading. Either I have forgottenthem or they did not come my way. Later on, however, CaptainMayne Reid, Fenimore Cooper and the Wild West generally,seized upon my imagination.
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I desired and needed their embraces and so far as I could understandit they needed and desired the embraces of men. It came tome as the discovery of a fresh preposterousness in life as it was beinglived about me, that there were endless millions of young people inthe world in the same state of sexual suspense and unrest as myself,quite unable to free themselves sweetly and honestly from theseentangling preoccupations. Quite enough, there was, of either sex togo round. But I did not want an epidemic of marriages. I had notthe slightest wish for household or offspring at that time; my ambitionwas all for unencumbered study and free movement in pursuitof my own ends, and my mind had not the slightest fixation uponany particular individual or type of individual. I was entirely out ofaccord with the sentimental patterns and focussed devotions adoptedby most people about me. In the free lives and free loves of theguardians of the Republic I found the encouragement I needed togive my wishes a systematic form. Presently I discovered a fresh supportfor these tentative projects in Shelley. Regardless of every visiblereality about me, of law, custom, social usage, economic necessitiesand the unexplored psychology of womanhood, I developed myadolescent fantasy of free, ambitious, self-reliant women who wouldmate with me and go their way, as I desired to go my way. I hadnever in fact seen or heard of any such women; I had evolved themfrom my inner consciousness.
But the making of that world scheme is not the only driving forcepresent in the actual life as it has to be told. In many passages it hasnot been even the dominant driving force. Other systems of feelingand motive run across or with or against the main theme. Sometimesthey seem to have a definite relation to it; they enhance its colour andinterest or they antagonize it, but often there is no possibility of regularizingtheir intervention. As in all actual fugues the rules are brokenand, judged by the strict standard, the composition is irregular.
With similar tales of the grandeur of the Chief in peace and war, Evan Dhubeguiled the way till they approached more closely those huge mountains whichEdward had hitherto only seen at a distance. It was towards evening as theyentered one of the tremendous passes which afford communication between thehigh and low country; the path, which was extremely steep and rugged, winded upa chasm between two tremendous rocks, following the passage which a foamingstream, that brawled far below, appeared to have worn for itself in the courseof ages. A few slanting beams of the sun, which was now setting, reached thewater in its darksome bed, and showed it partially, chafed by a hundred rocksand broken by a hundred falls. The descent from the path to the stream was amere precipice, with here and there a projecting fragment of granite, or ascathed tree, which had warped its twisted roots into the fissures of the rock.On the right hand, the mountain rose above the path with almost equalinaccessibility; but the hill on the opposite side displayed a shroud ofcopsewood, with which some pines were intermingled.
The Colonel's voice was on church parade now, and he was every inch achurchwarden as well. He went through the lesson with dispassionatedistinctness and extreme rapidity. Since it was a long passage fromIsaiah, he went, as he would have said, "a rattling good gallop." Butthe words, I thought, were incongruous ones when uttered by the Colonel."And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hissunto them from the end of the earth: and, behold, they shall come withspeed swiftly: none shall be weary nor stumble among them; none shallslumber nor sleep; neither shall the girdle of their loins be loosed,nor the latchet of their shoes be broken: whose arrows are sharp, andall their bows bent, their horses' hoofs shall be counted like flint,and their wheels like a whirlwind; their roaring shall be like a lion,they shall roar like young lions: yea, they shall roar, and lay hold ofthe prey, and shall carry it away safe, and none shall deliver it. Andin that day they shall war against them like the roaring of the sea: andif one look unto the land, behold darkness and sorrow, and the light isdarkened in the heavens thereof. Here endeth the First Lesson." And thebrisk little man turned over the leaves to a passage from Peter,arranged the gold-embroidered marker, and returned to his pew with erectand decorous demeanour.