Horace Jewdwine, a literary editor, thinks he discovered a genius in Savage Keith Rickman, a young and unknown poet who earns his living by making catalogs for his father, a bookseller. Jewdwine hesitates, however, to declare openly that Rickman is a genius, for his reputation could suffer if the young man then proves otherwise. He encourages Rickman privately but fails to give him the public recognition that would mean so much to the young writer.
Rickman himself cares little for fame or money. He knows that he is a genius, that is, that part of him is a genius. He is also a student, a young man about town, a journalist, a seeker after simple pleasures, and sometimes a drunk. He finds it difficult to have so many facets to his nature. One part wars constantly with the others; but no matter in what form he finds himself, honor never leaves him. Even when drunk, he continues to be honorable.
Rickman’s intelligence and his ability to judge books are the foundations upon which the elder Rickman built his financial success as a book dealer, yet father and son never understand each other. Money is the father’s god; the muse is Rickman’s. The father is backed by and supported by Mr. Pilkington, a financier of questionable ethics but a great success. When Pilkington informs him that the Harden library might soon be on the market, the old man sends his son to evaluate it. At the same time, Miss Lucia Harden, daughter of the owner of the library, asks for someone to catalog it for her. Rickman is chosen because his knowledge of old books is infallible.
Rickman is awed by Lucia. She is the daughter of a baronet and far above him in station, but from the first, he knows that she is destined to be his inspiration. Lucia is Jewdwine’s cousin, and he is unhappy when he learns of her association with Rickman. He knows Rickman is beneath her, but he also knows that his cousin is moved by poetry. Jewdwine thinks that he himself will one day marry Lucia and inherit the library and the country estate, but he cannot bring himself to ask for her hand; making decisions is almost impossible for Jewdwine.
While working for Lucia, Rickman learns that his father and Pilkington are planning to pay a ridiculously low price for the Harden library. In order to help the girl, he writes to Jewdwine and asks him to buy the library at a fair figure. Jewdwine fails to answer the letter. When Lucia’s father dies suddenly, leaving her indebted to Pilkington, Rickman goes to his father and tries to persuade him to change the offer. The old man refuses,...
(The entire section is 1051 words.)