Martin Eden HTML version

Chapter 8
Several weeks went by, during which Martin Eden studied his grammar, reviewed
the books on etiquette, and read voraciously the books that caught his fancy. Of
his own class he saw nothing. The girls of the Lotus Club wondered what had
become of him and worried Jim with questions, and some of the fellows who put
on the glove at Riley's were glad that Martin came no more. He made another
discovery of treasure-trove in the library. As the grammar had shown him the tie-
ribs of language, so that book showed him the tie-ribs of poetry, and he began to
learn metre and construction and form, beneath the beauty he loved finding the
why and wherefore of that beauty. Another modern book he found treated poetry
as a representative art, treated it exhaustively, with copious illustrations from the
best in literature. Never had he read fiction with so keen zest as he studied these
books. And his fresh mind, untaxed for twenty years and impelled by maturity of
desire, gripped hold of what he read with a virility unusual to the student mind.
When he looked back now from his vantage-ground, the old world he had known,
the world of land and sea and ships, of sailor-men and harpy-women, seemed a
very small world; and yet it blended in with this new world and expanded. His
mind made for unity, and he was surprised when at first he began to see points
of contact between the two worlds. And he was ennobled, as well, by the
loftiness of thought and beauty he found in the books. This led him to believe
more firmly than ever that up above him, in society like Ruth and her family, all
men and women thought these thoughts and lived them. Down below where he
lived was the ignoble, and he wanted to purge himself of the ignoble that had
soiled all his days, and to rise to that sublimated realm where dwelt the upper
classes. All his childhood and youth had been troubled by a vague unrest; he had
never known what he wanted, but he had wanted something that he had hunted
vainly for until he met Ruth. And now his unrest had become sharp and painful,
and he knew at last, clearly and definitely, that it was beauty, and intellect, and
love that he must have.
During those several weeks he saw Ruth half a dozen times, and each time was
an added inspiration. She helped him with his English, corrected his
pronunciation, and started him on arithmetic. But their intercourse was not all
devoted to elementary study. He had seen too much of life, and his mind was too
matured, to be wholly content with fractions, cube root, parsing, and analysis;
and there were times when their conversation turned on other themes - the last
poetry he had read, the latest poet she had studied. And when she read aloud to
him her favorite passages, he ascended to the topmost heaven of delight. Never,
in all the women he had heard speak, had he heard a voice like hers. The least
sound of it was a stimulus to his love, and he thrilled and throbbed with every
word she uttered. It was the quality of it, the repose, and the musical modulation -
the soft, rich, indefinable product of culture and a gentle soul. As he listened to