Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1192
Lucian Taylor, son of an Anglican rector in a rural parish, was an extraordinary lad, even before he went to school. He was both studious and reflective, so much so that he was not accepted readily by the boys of the neighborhood. When Lucian went away to school, he did very well in his studies, but he formed an acute dislike for athletics and for social life with his fellow students. In his studies, he turned toward the less material and preferred to learn of the dim Celtic and Roman days of Britain, of medieval church history, and of works in magic.
When he was fifteen years old, Lucian returned to his home during the August holidays and found it quite changed. His mother had died during the previous year, and his father’s fortunes had sunk lower and lower. As a result, his father had become exceedingly moody, and Lucian spent much of his time away from the house. His habit was to wander through the rolling countryside by himself.
One bright summer afternoon, he climbed up a steep hillside to the site of an old Roman fort. The site was at some distance from any human habitation, and Lucian felt quite alone. Because of the heat, he had an impulse to strip off his sweaty clothing and take a nap. He did, only to be awakened by someone kissing him. By the time he had fully regained his senses, the unknown person had disappeared. Lucian was not sure whether some supernatural being or Annie Morgan, daughter of a local farmer, had awakened him.
Soon afterward, Lucian went back to school. At last, the rector told his son that he could no longer afford to send him to school and that matriculation at Oxford was out of the question. Lucian was disappointed, but he settled down to studying in his father’s library or wandering about the countryside in solitary fashion as he had done during his vacations from school.
As the elder Taylor’s fortunes had declined, his popularity in the parish had diminished. Lucian’s own reputation had never been high, and his failure to take a job in some respectable business establishment turned the local gentry against him. Everyone felt that his studies and his attempts to write were foolish, since they brought in no money. Nor could the people understand Lucian’s failure to maintain their standards of respectability in dress and deportment.
Lucian, however, felt that he could stand beyond such criticism of his habits, but his self-respect suffered a blow when he tried to sell some of his writings. Publishers refused to accept his work and pointed out to him that what they wanted was sentimental fiction of a stereotyped kind. Not wishing to cheapen himself or his literary efforts, Lucian refused to turn out popular fiction of the type desired. He felt that he had to express himself in a graver kind of literature.
Lucian’s social and intellectual loneliness preyed upon him, plunging him at times into the deepest despair. One afternoon, while sunk in a mood of depression, he went out for a long walk. By dusk, he was far from home, or so he thought, and in the midst of a wood. Finally fighting his way clear of the dense brush, Lucian blundered onto a path and there met Annie Morgan. She sensed his mood and fell in with it. Both of them announced their love and pledged devotion. Lucian went home feeling better than he had in months.
As the days passed, Lucian fell into the habit of putting himself in a world apart, a world of the past, when Rome held Britain as a distant province. He dreamed that the modern town of Caermaen, near his father’s rectory, was once again the Roman settlement it had been centuries before. Lucian called his land of make-believe Avallaunius and spent most of his time there, peopling it with men and women, buildings and customs, which he had learned of through his exhaustive studies of Roman times in Britain. He went wandering through the modern town, imagining that the people he met and the scenes before his eyes were those of ancient times. Even Annie Morgan’s announcement that she was going away made little impression upon him, for he felt that she had accomplished her mission in his life by showing him how to escape into a better world.
People wondered at the strange behavior of the young man; even his father, not given to noticing anything, became worried because Lucian ate little and grew thin. People who knew him only by sight suspected him of being a drunkard because of his odd behavior and absentmindedness.
At last, however, Lucian escaped physically from Caermaen; he received notice that a distant cousin who had lived on the Isle of Wight had died and left him two thousand pounds. He immediately gave five hundred pounds to his father and invested the remainder for himself. With the assurance of a small, regular income, Lucian left Caermaen behind and went to London. There he felt he could escape from the moodiness that had held him prisoner in the country. He also hoped that the different mental atmosphere would prove helpful to him in his attempts at writing.
Upon his arrival in the city, Lucian found a single room in a private home. He soon settled down to a regular existence, writing late each night, sleeping late in the morning, reading over his work of the night before, and walking in the afternoons. His meals were sketchy, for he was forced to live on as little as fifteen shillings a week. The regular schedule, however, was not to hold for long. His inspiration was not a regular thing, and Lucian felt that he had to make his writings perfection itself. He threw away as much as he wrote. Disappointment over his efforts soon began to drive him into worse moods than he had known before.
Having been impressed as a boy by the work of De Quincey in CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM EATER, Lucian turned to opium for solace and inspiration. After he began taking drugs, he knew little that was going on in the world about him. He spent much of his time lying quietly in his room and reliving the past in visions. Once he had a real inspiration to write; his story about an amber goddess was the product of true imagination. Publication of the story, however, did little to generate ambition and the will to create; he was too far gone in his addiction to opium.
A heavy snow and a severe wave of cold struck London and southern England, but the weather made little impression on him; he might just as well have been living in a ghost city. Then one night he took too much opium. His landlady, not hearing him stir for many hours, looked into his room and found him dead at his desk, his writings spread about him. Even she felt little sorrow for him, although he had made over his small fortune to her.
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