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For the life of me, as I was sitting here this sunny, late-October morning, I could not write, a distressing condition, truly, for one who lives by writing.

Outside the windows of this quiet country house lay the lean fields of New England, soberly beautiful enough in their fading autumnal colorings, but somehow yielding no inspiration—forgive the pretentious and convenient word—no inspiration for my pen.

All around me my neighbors were busy; soberly engaged, each man of them, in safe-guarding himself, his body, soul, and his possessions, against the accidents of life and death. They too, somehow, failed to inspire that sluggish bit of pointed gold. Neither do your sober neighbors, friend, as I think of them. In all essentials they might be my own. For we are all a care-worn people, we of this young West, moving always circumspectly, hedging ourselves round with a tenfold wall against surprises, with creeds and codes and philosophies innumerable, all warranted Hell-proof and Heaven-kissing.

We count him wisest who lives and loves and dies most by rule. And the rule is that rule of our Tory Grecian forbears, "Never too much." "We may be a wise people and a happy people," said I to myself, "but we are quite too prudent to be counted young, in anything but years." And so that bit of gold hung uninspired as when it left the shop. It waited for livelier, more zestful topics than the daily grind of sober middle age.

Then all at once, it seemed, familiar voices called to me from that East we deem so old, and I was back there. A street stretched beneath me, such a street as only the Far East knows, and there only in one enchanted city. It was a wide street, and a long one, all aquiver with hot, stinging sunlight. It was walled with solid, four-square houses, and above them roofs and pinnacles rose in a hundred fantastic, airy shapes for which our Western architecture has no names, and the fronts of the houses flashed with decorations of barbaric red and gold. The street flamed with them. And all down the spacious, sun-flooded length of it, filling it from brim to brim, like a river, poured a current of tumultuous life.

From out the crowd eyes met mine, just as they used to do. Eyes of men intent on conquest, of goods, perhaps, or power, or pleasure, the eyes of men who sought, not soberly. Mocking, inviting, smiling, fathomless, straightforward eyes of women, who, forgetting, or unknowing Heaven and Hell, still knew that they were women, mistresses of a woman's joys and sorrows. Eyes of losers at the game, unhopeful but uncowed. Thousands of eyes glanced up at me, and not one solitary pair of them were like the eyes that look out soberly from your neighbor's head, or mine.

As my eyes questioned theirs, it seemed to me again, just as it used to do, that there in the old East, where life began, it still throbs most strongly, tingles most with the hot blood of youth; that there men, eternally young, are still most unafraid, grasp with least hesitation all life offers them, and accept the outcome of their choice with most sincerity.

As I was thinking that, it seemed to me that I went down into the life and stinging sunshine of the street, and mingled with it, till at last my steps led me down an alley and across a drawbridge that spanned a green and pestilential moat, and I approached the low gateway of a gray Walled City which was old when History was young. I passed under the cavern of the gate—and my feet rang on the worn flagstones as I passed—and came into a narrow street between low, sombre houses without windows, and so presently to a temple which in that city bears an unpleasant reputation. Not that scandal hangs about it—it takes Christian tongues to make libertines and guzzlers of Christian priests. But it is said that for some few centuries experiments in—in Psychical Research, let us say—have been going on in that old temple of Tzin Piaôu, with results that are not always reassuring to a lay beholder. I was in too careless a mood to care for that, that morning, and the porter let me pass, barbarian that I was, and I crossed the great courtyard and came to a little cell built in the thickness of the walls.

Fiction & Literature
July 7
Library of Alexandria
The Library of Alexandria

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