How then could its light
afford the mood fit for judging a poem--the cold sick morning, when life
is but half worth living! Walter did not think how much champagne he had
taken, nor how much that might have to do with one judgment at night and
another in the morning. "Set one mood against another," he said,
conscious all the time it was a piece of special pleading, "and the one
weighs as much as the other!" For it was horrible to him to think that
the morning was the clear-eyed, and that the praise he had lavished on
the book was but a vapor of the night. How was he to carry himself to
the lady of his love, who at most did not care half as much for him as
for her book?
How poetry could be such a passion with her when her own was but
mediocre, was a question Walter dared not shape--not, however, that he
saw the same question might be put with regard to himself: his own
poetry was neither strong nor fresh nor revealing. He had not noted that
an unpoetic person will occasionally go into a mild ecstasy over phrase
or passage or verse in which a poet may see little or nothing.
He came back to this:--his one hour had as good a claim to insight as
his other; if he saw the thing so once, why not say what he had seen?
Why should not the thing stand? His consciousness of the night before
had certainly been nearer that of a complete, capable being, than that
of to-day! He was in higher human condition then than now!
But there came another doubt: what was he to conclude concerning his
other numerous judgments passed irrevocably? Was he called and appointed
to influence the world's opinion of the labor of hundreds according to
the mood he happened to be in, or the hour at which he read their
volumes? But if he must write another judgment of that poem in vellum
and gold, he must first pack his portmanteau! To write in her home as he
felt now, would be treachery!
Not confessing it, he was persuading himself to send on the review. Of
course, had he the writing of it now, he would not write a paper like
that! But the thing being written, it could claim as good a chance of
being right as another! Had it not been written as honestly as another
of to-day would be? Might it not be just as true? The laws of art are so
Thus on and on went the windmill of heart and brain, until at last the
devil, or the devil's shadow--that is, the bad part of the man
himself--got the better, and Walter, not being true, did a
lie--published the thing he would no longer have said.