The matter which is given to the public in this book will speak with a voice of its own; it is necessary, however, to say a few words in advance to inform the reader of its history.
The writer of the journal herein contained was not known, I believe, to more than a dozen people in this huge city in which he lived. I am quite certain that I and my wife were the only persons he ever called his friends. I met him shortly after his graduation from college, and for the past few years I knew, and I alone, of a life of artistic devotion of such passionate fervor as I expect never to meet with again.
Arthur Stirling was entirely a self-educated man; he had worked at I know not how many impossible occupations, and labored in the night-time like the heroes one reads about. He taught himself to read five languages, and at the time when I saw him last he knew more great poetry by heart than any man of letters that I have ever met. He was the author of one book, a tragedy in blank verse, called The Captive; that drama forms the chief theme of this journal. For the rest, it seems to me enough to quote this notice, which appeared in the New York Times for June 9, 1902.
STIRLING.--By suicide in the Hudson River, poet and man of genius, in the 22d year of his age, only son of Richard T. and Grace Stirling, deceased, of Chicago. Chicago papers please copy.
Arthur Stirling was in appearance a tall, dark-haired boy--he was really only a boy--with a singularly beautiful face, and a strange wistful expression of the eyes that I think will haunt me as long as I live. I made him, somewhat externally and feebly, I fear, one of the characters in a recently published novel. That he was a lonely spirit will be plain enough from his writings; he lived among the poverty-haunted thousands of this city, without (so he once told me) ever speaking to a living soul for a week. Pecuniarily I could not help him--for though he was poor, I was scarcely less so. At the time of his frightful death I had not seen him for nearly two months--owing to circumstances which were in no way my fault, but for which I can nevertheless not forgive myself.
The writing of The Captive, as described in these papers, was begun in April, 1901. I was myself at that time in the midst of a struggle to have a book published. It was not really published until late in that year--at which time The Captive was finished and already several times rejected. It was an understood thing between us that should my book succeed it would mean freedom for both of us, but that, unfortunately, was not to be.
Early in April of 1902 I had succeeded in laying by provisions enough to last me while I wrote another book, and I fled away to put up my tent in the wilderness. The last time that I ever saw Arthur Stirling was in his room the night before I left. He smiled very bravely and said that he would keep his courage up, that he was pretty sure he would come out all right.
I did not expect him to write often--I knew that he was too poor for that; but after six weeks had passed and I had not heard from him at all, I wrote to a friend to go and see him. It developed that he had moved. The lodging-house keeper could only say that he had left her his baggage, being unable to pay his rent; and that he "looked sick." Where he went she did not know, and all efforts of mine to find him were of no avail. The only person that I knew of to ask was a certain young girl, a typewriter, who had known him for years, and who had worshiped him with a strange and terrible passion--who would have been his wife, or his slave, if he had not been as iron in such things, a man so lost in his vision that I suppose he always thought she was lost in it too. This girl had copied his manuscripts for years, with the plea that he might pay her when he "succeeded"; and she has all of his manuscripts now, except what I have, if she is alive. All that we could learn was that she had "gone away"; I feel pretty certain that she went in search of him.
In addition, all that I have to tell is that on Monday, June 9th last I received a large express package from Arthur. It was sent from New York, but marked as coming from another person--evidently to avoid giving an address of his own. Upon opening it I found two packages, one of them carefully sealed and marked upon the outside, The Captive; the other was the manuscript of this journal, and upon the top of it was the following letter:
MY DEAR ----:
You have no doubt been wondering what has become of me. I have been having a hard time of it. I wish I could find some way to make this thing a little easier, but I can not. When you read this letter I shall be dead. There is nothing that I can tell you about it that you will not read in the papers I send you. It is simply that I was born to be an artist, and that as anything else I can not live. The burden that has been laid upon me I can not bear another day. I have told the whole story of it in this book--I have kept myself alive for months, sick and weeping with agony, in order that I might tear it out of my heart and get it written. It has been my last prayer that the struggle my life has been may somehow not be useless. There will come others after me--others perhaps keener than I--and oh, the world must not kill them all!
You will take this manuscript, please, and go over it, and cut out what you like to make it printable, and write a few words to make people understand about it. And then see if any one will publish it. You know more about all these things than I do. If it should sell, keep part of the money for your own work and give the rest to poor Ellen. As to The Captive--I all but burned it, as you will read; but keep it, sealed as I have sealed it, for two years, and then offer it to some publishers--to others than the nine who have already rejected it. If you can not find any one to take it, then burn it, or keep it for love, I do not care which.
I am writing this on Thursday night, and I am almost dead. I mean to get some money to-morrow, and then to buy
a ticket for as far up the Hudson as I can go. In the evening I mean to find a steep bank, and, with a heavy dumb-bell I have bought, and a strong rope, I think I can find the peace that I have been seeking.
The first thing that I have to say to you about it is, that when you get this letter it will be over and done, and that I want you, for God's sake, not to make any fuss. No one will find my body and no one will care about it. You need not think it necessary to notify the newspapers--what I'm sending you here is literature and not journalism. I have no earthly belongings left except these MSS., upon which you will have to pay the toll. I have written to M----, a man who once did some typewriting for me, asking him to use a dollar he owes me in putting a notice in one of the papers. I suppose I owe that to the people out West.
I can't write you to-night--before God I can't; my head is going like a steel-mill, and I'm so
sick. You will get over this somehow, and go on and do your task and win. And if the memory of my prayer can help you, that will be something. Do the work of both of us if you can. Only, if you do pull through, remember my last cry--remember the young artist! There is no other fight so worth fighting--take it upon you--shout it day and night at them--what things they do with their young artists!
God bless you,
The above is the only tidings of him, excepting the extended accounts of his death which appeared in the New York Times and the New York World for June 10 and 11, 1902, and several letters which he wrote to other people. There remains only to say a few words as to the journal.
It is scrawled upon old note-books and loose sheets of paper. The matter, although a diary, contains odd bits of his writings--one of two letters to me which he had me send back, and some extracts from an essay which a friend of mine was offering at that time to magazines in the hope of placing it for him. There is a problem about the work which I leave to others to solve--how much of it was written as dated, and how much afterward, as a piece of art, as a testament of his sorrow. Parts of it have struck me as having been composed in the latter way, and the last pages, of course, imply as much.
Extraordinary pages they are to me. That a man who was about to take his life should have written them is one of the strangest cases of artistic absorption I know of in literature. But Arthur Stirling was a man lost in his art just so--so full of it, so drunk with it, that nothing in life had other meaning to him. To quote the words he loved, from the last of his heroes, he longed for excellence "as the lion longs for his food."
So he lived and so he worked; the world had no use for his work, and so he died.
NEW YORK, November 15, 1902.
* * * * * * * * * * * * READER:
I do not know if "The Valley of the Shadow" means to you what it means to me; I do not know if it means anything at all to you. But I have sought long and far for these words, to utter an all but unutterable thought.
When you walk in the forest you do not count the lives that you tread into nothingness. When you rejoice with the springtime you do not hear the cries of the young things that are choked and beaten down and dying. When you watch the wild thing in your snare you do not know the meaning of the torn limbs, and the throbbing heart, and the awful silence of the creature trapped. When you go where the poor live, and see thin faces and hungry eyes and crouching limbs, you do not think of these things either.
But I, reader--I dwell in the Valley of the Shadow.
Sometimes it is silent in my Valley, and the creatures sit in terror of their own voices; sometimes there are screams that pierce the sky; but there is never any answer in my Valley. There are quivering hands there, and racked limbs, and aching hearts, and panting souls. There is gasping struggle, glaring failure--maniac despair. For over my Valley rolls The Shadow
, a giant thing, moving with the weight of mountains. And you stare at it, you feel it; you scream, you pray, you weep; you hold up your hands to your God, you grow mad; but the Shadow moves like Time, like the sun, and the planets in the sky. It rolls over you, and it rolls on; and then you cry out no more.
It is that way in my Valley. The Shadow is the Shadow of Death.