Monday, December 17, 2012

Monarchs and Memories

Earlier this month, I wrote about some problems with Dickens’s Reprinted Pieces, problems I wasn’t necessarily enjoying wrestling with. But today, I have only wonderful things to say.

The book lies before me on my table now, and as I open the cover, ghostly images rise from it and pass before my eyes. Here is a small child gazing up at a star and calling to his departed sister. I can hear only the echo of the breath of his voice; the precise content of his tender words is private matter. The boy’s image fades, and the ghost of a grown man takes his place. He wears a long beard and a satisfied smile and reminds me briefly of his story: once a favored model for painters of historical scenes, he grew tired of sitting in studios and of being constantly recognized on the street, so he solved both problems with one growth of facial hair.

Now up from the pages rises an enclosed carriage ringed with red curtains. Inside I find our friend Charles listening to the reminiscences of a bill-sticker. This princely laborer has achieved his regal status through hard work and innovation. He tells of trends in advertisements and the history of paper sizes. After dismissing a vassal with an order to procure more tobacco, he announces that he concocted the idea of posting announcements on the underside of bridges – for the benefit of water travellers, of course – and invented the expandable tool that allows him to reach so high. It occurs to me that his dynasty continues even today the noble policy of finding new locations for notices so that we need never fear turning our gaze in a direction that does not include at least one advertisement.

The last pages of the book turn, and as the bill-sticker’s carriage turns to smoke and wisps away, a numinous Christmas tree rises before me. Next to it sits a man with Victorian dress and beard, holding a pen and writing as he watches the Yule tree slowly spin. The writer’s face gains a wistful smile as toys appear on the lowest branches: a rolling acrobat, a jumping frog. On the other side of the tree, I see toys from my past: building sets and trains and games. Then books begin to appear, hanging from the green boughs. The spectral author gasps a little as a turbaned sultan gives a menacing look and a wave of a scimitar. The tree spins and presents other books and other characters, ones from my past. Many of these books bear the name of the very author whose past first conjured this tree of memory. From one comes the image of a tall, lean man in a thin scarf and worn hat, a tiny boy seated on his shoulder and carrying a little wooden crutch. If this blessed Season inspires me each year to celebrate with the humble joy of Bob and to remember the Miracle Worker that Tim loved, no small part of the credit must go to the Great Man who gave us his tales of poor clerks and eccentric bill-stickers and trees with the mystical power to bring the dead past back to life.

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