The Lost Book

Mary E. Wilkins

From Book Culture Vol. I No. 7 (September, 1899)

There was once a man who lost a Book, and thereupon all his importance in the world was at an end. The volume had been compiled by his ancestors, and it was full of rare and strange wisdom: the result of all the varied experience of his race, the perfect lesson learned from all their woes and joys and labors on the face of the earth.

When the man knew that his Book was lost, he realized that he himself might as well have vanished from sight, for all the use he would thereafter be in his day and generation. None of his blood were men of creative, but rather of receptive minds. All their power of knowledge whereby they were enabled to accomplish great results, was the outcome of patient gleaning and interweaving of small ends of experience. This Book of the garnered wisdom of his ancestors had been a veritable lamp unto his feet; without it he must evermore grope in the dark.

When the man first knew that his Book was gone from the sacred hiding place in which he had always kept it, he exhausted himself with vain searchings. He knew not how it could have been lost, for no mortal except himself had known where it was concealed. The man searched day and night in vain, and at last settled himself patiently into his estate of foolishness and error. His neighbors expected nothing more of him, and he expected nothing of himself. Continually he met the wall with painful shocks by reason of wrong turnings, continually his very soul was jolted by sudden lacks and heights of steps.

So the man lived and died, and all his road of life was a network of missteps and stumbles, and he gained no esteem from his neighbors or himself. Every one said: “If the Book had not been lost, he might have made something of his life.” And he said, when he came to die: “If only I had not lost the Book, I might have known how to live.”

But after the man was dead, and laid away in his tomb, the door thereof closed, and the willow branches sprung back over it, and the violets blooming on the sods of the roof, some one passing late at night by the house where he had dwelt, saw a bright light in a window, and wondered because nobody was living therein. Then he called another neighbor, and together they entered, and behold, the lost Book lay on the dead man's table, and upon the open page was painted, as with colors of flame and light, the passing and the stumbling and the faltering of the dead man along his road of life, and the shining of the picture was greater than all the written wisdom of the Book.