Martin Eden HTML version

Chapter 7
A week of heavy reading had passed since the evening he first met Ruth Morse,
and still he dared not call. Time and again he nerved himself up to call, but under
the doubts that assailed him his determination died away. He did not know the
proper time to call, nor was there any one to tell him, and he was afraid of
committing himself to an irretrievable blunder. Having shaken himself free from
his old companions and old ways of life, and having no new companions, nothing
remained for him but to read, and the long hours he devoted to it would have
ruined a dozen pairs of ordinary eyes. But his eyes were strong, and they were
backed by a body superbly strong. Furthermore, his mind was fallow. It had lain
fallow all his life so far as the abstract thought of the books was concerned, and it
was ripe for the sowing. It had never been jaded by study, and it bit hold of the
knowledge in the books with sharp teeth that would not let go.
It seemed to him, by the end of the week, that he had lived centuries, so far
behind were the old life and outlook. But he was baffled by lack of preparation.
He attempted to read books that required years of preliminary specialization. One
day he would read a book of antiquated philosophy, and the next day one that
was ultra-modern, so that his head would be whirling with the conflict and
contradiction of ideas. It was the same with the economists. On the one shelf at
the library he found Karl Marx, Ricardo, Adam Smith, and Mill, and the abstruse
formulas of the one gave no clew that the ideas of another were obsolete. He
was bewildered, and yet he wanted to know. He had become interested, in a day,
in economics, industry, and politics. Passing through the City Hall Park, he had
noticed a group of men, in the centre of which were half a dozen, with flushed
faces and raised voices, earnestly carrying on a discussion. He joined the
listeners, and heard a new, alien tongue in the mouths of the philosophers of the
people. One was a tramp, another was a labor agitator, a third was a law- school
student, and the remainder was composed of wordy workingmen. For the first
time he heard of socialism, anarchism, and single tax, and learned that there
were warring social philosophies. He heard hundreds of technical words that
were new to him, belonging to fields of thought that his meagre reading had
never touched upon. Because of this he could not follow the arguments closely,
and he could only guess at and surmise the ideas wrapped up in such strange
expressions. Then there was a black-eyed restaurant waiter who was a
theosophist, a union baker who was an agnostic, an old man who baffled all of
them with the strange philosophy that WHAT IS IS RIGHT, and another old man
who discoursed interminably about the cosmos and the father-atom and the
Martin Eden's head was in a state of addlement when he went away after several
hours, and he hurried to the library to look up the definitions of a dozen unusual
words. And when he left the library, he carried under his arm four volumes: