Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 56

Considerably sobered — Power of writing — The tempter — Hungry talent — Work concluded.

Rather late in the morning I awoke; for a few minutes I lay still, perfectly still; my imagination was considerably sobered; the scenes and situations which had pleased me so much over night appeared to me in a far less captivating guise that morning. I felt languid and almost hopeless — the thought, however, of my situation soon roused me — I must make an effort to improve the posture of my affairs; there was no time to be lost; so I sprang out of bed, breakfasted on bread and water, and then sat down doggedly to write the life of Joseph Sell.

It was a great thing to have formed my plan, and to have arranged the scenes in my head, as I had done on the preceding night. The chief thing requisite at present was the mere mechanical act of committing them to paper. This I did not find at first so easy as I could wish — I wanted mechanical skill; but I persevered, and before evening I had written ten pages. I partook of some bread and water; and before I went to bed that night, I had completed fifteen pages of my life of Joseph Sell.

The next day I resumed my task — I found my power of writing considerably increased; my pen hurried rapidly over the paper — my brain was in a wonderfully teeming state; many scenes and visions which I had not thought of before were evolved, and, as fast as evolved, written down; they seemed to be more pat to my purpose, and more natural to my history, than many others which I had imagined before, and which I made now give place to these newer creations: by about midnight I had added thirty fresh pages to my Life and Adventures of Joseph Sell.

The third day arose — it was dark and dreary out of doors, and I passed it drearily enough within; my brain appeared to have lost much of its former glow, and my pen much of its power; I, however, toiled on, but at midnight had only added seven pages to my history of Joseph Sell.

On the fourth day the sun shone brightly — I arose, and, having breakfasted as usual, I fell to work. My brain was this day wonderfully prolific, and my pen never before or since glided so rapidly over the paper; towards night I began to feel strangely about the back part of my head, and my whole system was extraordinarily affected. I likewise occasionally saw double — a tempter now seemed to be at work within me.

‘You had better leave off now for a short space,’ said the tempter, ‘and go out and drink a pint of beer; you have still one shilling left — if you go on at this rate, you will go mad — go out and spend sixpence, you can afford it, more than half your work is done.’ I was about to obey the suggestion of the tempter, when the idea struck me that, if I did not complete the work whilst the fit was on me, I should never complete it; so I held on. I am almost afraid to state how many pages I wrote that day of the life of Joseph Sell.

From this time I proceeded in a somewhat more leisurely manner; but, as I drew nearer and nearer to the completion of my task, dreadful fears and despondencies came over me. — It will be too late, thought I; by the time I have finished the work, the bookseller will have been supplied with a tale or a novel. Is it probable that, in a town like this, where talent is so abundant — hungry talent too — a bookseller can advertise for a tale or a novel, without being supplied with half a dozen in twenty-four hours? I may as well fling down my pen — I am writing to no purpose. And these thoughts came over my mind so often, that at last, in utter despair, I flung down the pen. Whereupon the tempter within me said — ‘And, now you have flung down the pen, you may as well fling yourself out of the window; what remains for you to do?’ Why, to take it up again, thought I to myself, for I did not like the latter suggestion at all — and then forthwith I resumed the pen, and wrote with greater vigour than before, from about six o’clock in the evening until I could hardly see, when I rested for a while, when the tempter within me again said, or appeared to say — ‘All you have been writing is stuff, it will never do — a drug — a mere drug’; and methought these last words were uttered in the gruff tones of the big publisher. ‘A thing merely to be sneezed at,’ a voice like that of Taggart added; and then I seemed to hear a sternutation, — as I probably did, for, recovering from a kind of swoon, I found myself shivering with cold. The next day I brought my work to a conclusion.

But the task of revision still remained; for an hour or two I shrank from it, and remained gazing stupidly at the pile of paper which I had written over. I was all but exhausted, and I dreaded, on inspecting the sheets, to find them full of absurdities which I had paid no regard to in the furor of composition. But the task, however trying to my nerves, must be got over; at last, in a kind of desperation, I entered upon it. It was far from an easy one; there were, however, fewer errors and absurdities than I had anticipated. About twelve o’clock at night I had got over the task of revision. ‘To-morrow for the bookseller,’ said I, as my head sank on the pillow. ‘Oh me!’

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32