Reveries of a Bachelor (Ik Marvel, 1847)

This winning book was a find in the “Old and interesting” section of Half Price Books. I learn from the foreword and some little research that it was a wildly popular production early in the history of Scribner, in which the author muses about love and life, riffing on whatever is nearby. This admittedly sounds like a recipe for a sentimentalist disaster, or a collection of trite epigrams, but the author’s talent for expression, direct and conversational tone, and the (slightly glib) truths he utters are actually compelling, even affecting.

The first reverie is upon a fire in a charmingly-described country cabin. First there is “Smoke – Signifying Doubt,” in which the benefits of bachelordom are expressed. Then comes Blaze, which brings to mind hope to our narrator, and all the possibilities of a loving union. Last is Ashes, a heartbreaking meditation on loss and desolation, most simply and poignantly summarized: “Ashes always come after blaze.”

Then follow three more reveries – with similar sentiments arising from coal in a city fire grate, three methods of lighting a cigar, and the phases of the day. The collection isn’t really meant to be read straight through; if you do so, you risk emotional overload.

The book succeeds on its most powerful passages, and glides by during the rest on the strength of the author’s easy style. The first reverie begs to be read aloud, and resonates with the trepidation towards commitment and fear of abandonment common to most humans. There is little literature of this sentimental, musing type these days and Reveries of a Bachelor is a refreshing break.