Martin Eden HTML version

Chapter 9
Back from sea Martin Eden came, homing for California with a lover's desire. His
store of money exhausted, he had shipped before the mast on the treasure-
hunting schooner; and the Solomon Islands, after eight months of failure to find
treasure, had witnessed the breaking up of the expedition. The men had been
paid off in Australia, and Martin had immediately shipped on a deep- water
vessel for San Francisco. Not alone had those eight months earned him enough
money to stay on land for many weeks, but they had enabled him to do a great
deal of studying and reading.
His was the student's mind, and behind his ability to learn was the indomitability
of his nature and his love for Ruth. The grammar he had taken along he went
through again and again until his unjaded brain had mastered it. He noticed the
bad grammar used by his shipmates, and made a point of mentally correcting
and reconstructing their crudities of speech. To his great joy he discovered that
his ear was becoming sensitive and that he was developing grammatical nerves.
A double negative jarred him like a discord, and often, from lack of practice, it
was from his own lips that the jar came. His tongue refused to learn new tricks in
a day.
After he had been through the grammar repeatedly, he took up the dictionary and
added twenty words a day to his vocabulary. He found that this was no light task,
and at wheel or lookout he steadily went over and over his lengthening list of
pronunciations and definitions, while he invariably memorized himself to sleep.
"Never did anything," "if I were," and "those things," were phrases, with many
variations, that he repeated under his breath in order to accustom his tongue to
the language spoken by Ruth. "And" and "ing," with the "d" and "g" pronounced
emphatically, he went over thousands of times; and to his surprise he noticed
that he was beginning to speak cleaner and more correct English than the
officers themselves and the gentleman-adventurers in the cabin who had
financed the expedition.
The captain was a fishy-eyed Norwegian who somehow had fallen into
possession of a complete Shakespeare, which he never read, and Martin had
washed his clothes for him and in return been permitted access to the precious
volumes. For a time, so steeped was he in the plays and in the many favorite
passages that impressed themselves almost without effort on his brain, that all
the world seemed to shape itself into forms of Elizabethan tragedy or comedy
and his very thoughts were in blank verse. It trained his ear and gave him a fine
appreciation for noble English; withal it introduced into his mind much that was
archaic and obsolete.