Martin Eden HTML version

Chapter 13
It was the knot of wordy socialists and working-class philosophers that held forth
in the City Hall Park on warm afternoons that was responsible for the great
discovery. Once or twice in the month, while riding through the park on his way to
the library, Martin dismounted from his wheel and listened to the arguments, and
each time he tore himself away reluctantly. The tone of discussion was much
lower than at Mr. Morse's table. The men were not grave and dignified. They lost
their tempers easily and called one another names, while oaths and obscene
allusions were frequent on their lips. Once or twice he had seen them come to
blows. And yet, he knew not why, there seemed something vital about the stuff of
these men's thoughts. Their logomachy was far more stimulating to his intellect
than the reserved and quiet dogmatism of Mr. Morse. These men, who
slaughtered English, gesticulated like lunatics, and fought one another's ideas
with primitive anger, seemed somehow to be more alive than Mr. Morse and his
crony, Mr. Butler.
Martin had heard Herbert Spencer quoted several times in the park, but one
afternoon a disciple of Spencer's appeared, a seedy tramp with a dirty coat
buttoned tightly at the throat to conceal the absence of a shirt. Battle royal was
waged, amid the smoking of many cigarettes and the expectoration of much
tobacco-juice, wherein the tramp successfully held his own, even when a
socialist workman sneered, "There is no god but the Unknowable, and Herbert
Spencer is his prophet." Martin was puzzled as to what the discussion was about,
but when he rode on to the library he carried with him a new-born interest in
Herbert Spencer, and because of the frequency with which the tramp had
mentioned "First Principles," Martin drew out that volume.
So the great discovery began. Once before he had tried Spencer, and choosing
the "Principles of Psychology" to begin with, he had failed as abjectly as he had
failed with Madam Blavatsky. There had been no understanding the book, and he
had returned it unread. But this night, after algebra and physics, and an attempt
at a sonnet, he got into bed and opened "First Principles." Morning found him still
reading. It was impossible for him to sleep. Nor did he write that day. He lay on
the bed till his body grew tired, when he tried the hard floor, reading on his back,
the book held in the air above him, or changing from side to side. He slept that
night, and did his writing next morning, and then the book tempted him and he
fell, reading all afternoon, oblivious to everything and oblivious to the fact that
that was the afternoon Ruth gave to him. His first consciousness of the
immediate world about him was when Bernard Higginbotham jerked open the
door and demanded to know if he thought they were running a restaurant.
Martin Eden had been mastered by curiosity all his days. He wanted to know,
and it was this desire that had sent him adventuring over the world. But he was