There are, indeed, books and books and there are books which, as Lamb said, do not book at all. I have come across both the types-the trashy as well the useful. Both have left their impress behind, but I shall mention only those which influenced my mind for the better.
Looking back on the long vista of years I think Jane Eyre was the first book that I read twice and would be glad to read it a third time if somebody presented it to me. I was. I think, fifteen when I first came upon it and what appealed to me most in it was the adorable fidelity and affection with which Charollete Bronte had written of children. The tragic childhood of Jane Eyre wrought upon me a certain charm of attraction as well as compassion. It is generally said that the true tears are those which are called forth by the beauty of poetry.
But the true tears are also those, of a yet rarer kind, which are called forth by the beauty of goodness and of such goodness I had an overflowing abundance in Jane Eyre. Her hero, Rochester, is a wonderful and incomparable figure. How she came first to conceive and finally to fashion that perfect study of noble, faithful and suffering manhood was and still is a puzzle to me.
The same year I came upon Jane Austen. I had long wished to write a novel in which, as mostly in life, nothing happens. And Jane Austen, I found, had forestalled me there-though not quite. She gives some mild shocks occasionally her persons knock their heads together now and then, and there are stars to be seen by somebody. But, taken on the whole, her world squares well with the world that I had conjured up for my novels which I still believe I shall write some day and dip into the well whereof Miss Austen has only skimmed the surface.
The next person in order of time was Shakespeare. He did not impress me at that time. I am not ashamed to make this confession, for I have now made amends and Shakespeare has been placed on the pedestal he deserves. Macheth was the first drama that fell into ‘my hands. I was horrified at the diabolical crimes and tried to seek refuge in All’s Well That Ends Well lured by the title. I very soon concluded that the title was a supremely cynical one. I detested Bertram and was absolutely disgusted at Helena falling in love with Parolles—that bragging coward. Shakespeare was done for. I did not read anything more by him for a couple of years.