Friday, June 11, 2010

In Which I Sigh With Delight Over a Book

And cry over a long-dead pet. And it wasn't even my pet.

Last night I finished reading My Summer in a Garden by Charles Dudley Warner, published 1870. Finding unknown-to-me, long out of print gems such as this is one reason I adore my Kindle. Were it not for my Kindle, I would never have found this reminiscence; that was purely by accident.

Mr. Warner, friend and neighbor to Mark Twain, was a well-known essayist and newspaper editor of the nineteenth century.My Summer in a Garden is a sweet recollection of his garden in Connecticut, the trials and triumphs experienced therein, punctuated with gentle philosophical musings, such as "Knowledge is the soil, and intuitions are the flowers which grow up out of it." We watch his garden grow in weekly installments, and his easy-going writing style and sly wit draw the reader in, till we become as exasperated with the boys and the cow who keep trespassing and eating his fruit as he, as tired of weeding 'pusley' as he, as contemplative of a quiet summer's eve as he.

I love reading memoirs of life on old Colonial farms or in the wild west of 100 years ago, so I was delighted to find this book. A forgotten gem indeed.

Mr. Warner ended the book not just with the advent of autumn, but with one of the most eloquent, heartbreaking eulogies that I have ever read or heard. Calvin the cat, his gardening companion, appeared out of nowhere, age and breeding and past unknown, and was given to Mr. and Mrs. Warner by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Mr Warner accepted Calvin at face value, and he Mr. Warner. The loving description of Calvin's beauty, his behavior, his elegance and constancy of affection, made me cry. My fifteen-year-old cat lay on my lap as I read this, the mystery of her past as unknowable as his. In her bowed head, I saw his. There are many lessons to be learned from Calvin's life, and his way of living. I write that not just as a cat lover. And yes, I cried for Calvin. The power of words, that someone would cry for a cat who died one hundred forty years ago.

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