‘A Lover’s Diary’ has not the same modest history as ‘Embers’. As far back as 1894 it was given to the public without any apology or excuse, but I have been apologising for it ever since, in one way—without avail. I wished that at least one-fifth of it had not been published; but my apology was never heard till now as I withdraw from this edition of A Lover’s Diary some twenty-five sonnets representing fully one-fifth of the original edition. As it now stands the faint thread of narrative is more distinct, and redundancy of sentiment and words is modified to some extent at any rate. Such material story as there is, apart from the spiritual history embodied in the sonnets, seems more visible now, and the reader has a clearer revelation of a young, aspiring, candid mind shadowed by stern conventions of thought, dogma, and formula, but breaking loose from the environment which smothered it. The price it pays for the revelation is a hopeless love informed by temptation, but lifted away from ruinous elements by self-renunciation, to end with the inevitable parting, poignant and permanent, a task of the soul finished and the toll of the journey of understanding paid.
The six sonnets in italics, beginning with ‘The Bride’, and ending with ‘Annunciation’, have nothing to do with the story further than to show two phases of the youth’s mind before it was shaken by speculation, plunged into the sadness of doubt and apprehension, and before it had found the love which was to reveal it to itself, transform the character, and give new impulse and direction to personal force and individual sense. These were written when I was twenty and twenty-one years of age, and the sonnet sequence of ‘A Lover’s Diary’ was begun when I was twenty-three. They were continued over seven years in varying quantity. Sometimes two or three were written in a week, and then no more would be written for several weeks or maybe months, and it is clearly to be seen from the text, from the change in style, and above all in the nature of the thought that between ‘The Darkened Way’, which ends one epoch, and ‘Reunited’, which begins another and the last epoch, were intervening years.
The sonnet which begins the book and particularly that which ends the book have been very widely quoted, and ‘Envoy’ has been set to music by more than one celebrated musician. Whatever the monotony of a sonnet sequence (and it is a form which I should not have chosen if I had been older and wiser) there has been a continuous, if limited, demand for the little book. As Edmund Clarence Stedman said in a review, it was a book which had to be written. It was an impulse, a vision, and a revealing, and, in his own words in a letter to me, “It was to be done whether you willed it or no, and there it is a truthful thing of which you shall be glad in spite of what you say.”
These last words of the great critic were in response to the sudden repentance and despair I felt after Messrs. Stone and Kimball had published the book in exquisite form with a beautiful frontispiece by Will H. Low. In any case, it is now too late to try and disabuse the minds of those who care for the little piece of artistry, and since 1894, when it was published, I have matured sufficiently in life’s academy not to be too unduly sensitive either as to the merit or demerit of my work. There is, after all, an unlovable kind of vanity in acute self-criticism —as though it mattered deeply to the world whether one ever wrote anything; or, having written, as though it mattered to the world enough to stir it in its course by one vibration. The world has drunk deep of wonderful literature, and all that I can do is make a small brew with a little flavour of my own; but it still could get on very well indeed with the old staple and matured vintages were I never to write at all.
The King—Whence art thou, sir? Gilfaron—My Lord, I know not well. Indeed, I am a townsman of the world. For once my mother told me that she saw The Angel of the Cross Roads lead me out, And point to every corner of the sky, And say, “Thy feet shall follow in the trail Of every tribe; and thou shalt pitch thy tent Wherever thou shalt see a human face Which hath thereon the alphabet of life; Yea, thou shalt spell it out e’en as a child: And therein wisdom find.” The King—Art thou wise? Gilfaron—Only according to the Signs. The King—What signs? Gilfaron—The first—the language of the Garden, sire, When man spoke with the naked searching thought, Unlacquered of the world. The King—Speak so forthwith; come, show us to be wise. Gilfaron—The Angel of the Cross Roads to me said: “And wisdom comes by looking eye to eye, Each seeing his own soul as in a glass; For ye shall find the Lodges of the Wise, The farthest Camp of the Delightful Fires, By marching two by two, not one by one.” —The King’s Daughter.
Categories: English Literature