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The Lumley Autograph   By: (1813-1894)

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Susan Fenimore Cooper


[Not long since an American author received an application from a German correspondent for "a few Autographs" the number of names applied for amounting to more than a hundred, and covering several sheets of foolscap. A few years since an Englishman of literary note sent his Album to a distinguished poet in Paris for his contribution, when the volume was actually stolen from a room where every other article was left untouched; showing that Autographs were more valuable in the eyes of the thief than any other property. Amused with the recollection of these facts, and others of the same kind, some idle hours were given by the writer to the following view of this mania of the day.]

The month of November of the year sixteen hundred and was cheerless and dark, as November has never failed to be within the foggy, smoky bounds of the great city of London. It was one of the worst days of the season; what light there was seemed an emanation from the dull earth, the heavens would scarce have owned it, veiled as they were, by an opaque canopy of fog which weighed heavily upon the breathing multitude below. Gloom penetrated every where; no barriers so strong, no good influences so potent, as wholly to ward off the spell thrown over that mighty town by the spirits of chill and damp; they clung to the silken draperies of luxury, they were felt within the busy circle of industry, they crept about the family hearth, but abroad in the public ways, and in the wretched haunts of misery, they held undisputed sway.

Among the throng which choked the passage of Temple Bar toward evening, an individual, shabbily clad, was dragging his steps wearily along, his pallid countenance bearing an expression of misery beyond the more common cares of his fellow passengers. Turning from the great thoroughfare he passed into a narrow lane, and reaching the door of a mean dwelling he entered, ascended a dirty stairway four stories high, and stood in his garret lodging. If that garret was bare, cold, and dark, it was only like others, in which many a man before and since has pined away years of neglect and penury, at the very moment when his genius was cheering, enriching, enlightening his country and his race. That the individual whose steps we have followed was indeed a man of genius, could not be doubted by one who had met the glance of that deep, clear, piercing eye, clouded though it was at that moment by misery of body and mind that amounted to the extreme of anguish. The garret of the stranger contained no food, no fuel, no light; its occupant was suffering from cold, hunger, and wretchedness. Throwing himself on a broken chair, he clenched his fingers over the manuscript, held within a pale and emaciated hand.

"Shall I die of hunger or shall I make one more effort?" he exclaimed, in a voice in which bitterness gave a momentary power to debility.

"I will write once more to my patron possibly " without waiting to finish the sentence, he groped about in the dull twilight for ink and paper; resting the sheet on a book, he wrote in a hand barely legible:

"Nov. 20th 16 ,

"MY LORD I have no light, and cannot see to write no fire and my fingers are stiff with cold I have not tasted food for eight and forty hours, and I am faint. Three times, my lord, I have been at your door to day, but could not obtain admittance. This note may yet reach you in time to save a fellow creature from starvation. I have not a farthing left, nor credit for a ha'penny small debts press upon me, and the publishers refused my last poem. Unless relieved within a few hours I must perish.

"Your lordship's most humble, "Most obedient, most grateful servant, "

This letter, scarcely legible from the agitation and misery which enfeebled the hand that wrote it, was folded, and directed, and again the writer left his garret lodging on the errand of beggary; he descended the narrow stairway, slowly dragged his steps through the lane, and sought the dwelling of his patron... Continue reading book >>

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