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The Human Chord   By: (1869-1951)

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To those who hear.

Chapter I


As a boy he constructed so vividly in imagination that he came to believe in the living reality of his creations: for everybody and everything he found names real names. Inside him somewhere stretched immense playgrounds, compared to which the hay fields and lawns of his father's estate seemed trivial: plains without horizon, seas deep enough to float the planets like corks, and "such tremendous forests" with "trees like tall pointed hilltops." He had only to close his eyes, drop his thoughts inwards, sink after them himself, call aloud and see.

His imagination conceived and bore worlds; but nothing in these worlds became alive until he discovered its true and living name. The name was the breath of life; and, sooner or later, he invariably found it.

Once, having terrified his sister by affirming that a little man he had created would come through her window at night and weave a peaked cap for himself by pulling out all her hairs "that hadn't gone to sleep with the rest of her body," he took characteristic measures to protect her from the said depredations. He sat up the entire night on the lawn beneath her window to watch, believing firmly that what his imagination had made alive would come to pass.

She did not know this. On the contrary, he told her that the little man had died suddenly; only, he sat up to make sure. And, for a boy of eight, those cold and haunted hours must have seemed endless from ten o'clock to four in the morning, when he crept back to his own corner of the night nursery. He possessed, you see, courage as well as faith and imagination.

Yet the name of the little man was nothing more formidable than "Winky!"

"You might have known he wouldn't hurt you, Teresa," he said. "Any one with that name would be light as a fly and awf'ly gentle a regular dicky sort of chap!"

"But he'd have pincers," she protested, "or he couldn't pull the hairs out. Like an earwig he'd be. Ugh!"

"Not Winky! Never!" he explained scornfully, jealous of his offspring's reputation. "He'd do it with his rummy little fingers."

"Then his fingers would have claws at the ends!" she insisted; for no amount of explanation could persuade her that a person named Winky could be nice and gentle, even though he were "quicker than a second." She added that his death rejoiced her.

"But I can easily make another such a nippy little beggar, and twice as hoppy as the first. Only I won't do it," he added magnanimously, "because it frightens you."

For to name with him was to create. He had only to run out some distance into his big mental prairie, call aloud a name in a certain commanding way, and instantly its owner would run up to claim it. Names described souls. To learn the name of a thing or person was to know all about them and make them subservient to his will; and "Winky" could only have been a very soft and furry little person, swift as a shadow, nimble as a mouse just the sort of fellow who would make a conical cap out of a girl's fluffy hair ... and love the mischief of doing it.

And so with all things: names were vital and important. To address beings by their intimate first names, beings of the opposite sex especially, was a miniature sacrament; and the story of that premature audacity of Elsa with Lohengrin never failed to touch his sense of awe. "What's in a name?" for him, was a significant question a question of life or death. For to mispronounce a name was a bad blunder, but to name it wrongly was to miss it altogether. Such a thing had no real life, or at best a vitality that would soon fade. Adam knew that! And he pondered much in his childhood over the difficulty Adam must have had "discovering" the correct appellations for some of the queerer animals....

As he grew older, of course, all this faded a good deal, but he never quite lost the sense of reality in names the significance of a true name, the absurdity of a false one, the cruelty of mispronunciation... Continue reading book >>

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