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Emotions Attendant on Acquiring a Desk
“The Gentler View,” Harper’s Weekly (February 11, 1911) : 23 : link
link (U Michigan scan, google)

      It is possible that these complex and intoxicating sensations might never come — blankness of any kind always being so likely — unless one had served a long apprenticeship of desklessness. But surely it is uncommon when a desk comes to one early in life, at an age when it will be received with callow insensibility exactly as though desks were ordinary acquisitions. There cannot be many people who are given the barely attainable before they have become conscious of wanting it. That is too pessimistic a view. One prefers to think that there are vast numbers of people who have longed for a desk, a particular desk of their own, and during the years that they were given and bought of their own stupidity other things a sore spot grew in their hearts, which ached forlornly whenever desks were mentioned; and as the time lengthened their ideas on desks became so circumscribed and precious that the chances of attainment grew almost grotesque, so that it was only when desks had become a closed, because so near and dear, subject, that at last, with a lump in the throat quite as big as the desired article itself, they gazed with embarrassed eyes at a vision they were told was their own personal, exclusive, private desk.
      There cannot exist a heart so dull that it has not thrilled to the word pigeonhole. It is an entrancing word with its meaning removed, but, taken with all its native charm in connection with its power to describe an aperture where one can be publicly untidy without incurring blame; in fact, where one must be seemingly dishevelled to at all give the proper effect of multifarious interests, then it is small wonder if a pigeonhole seems like a slightly different breed of Bluebird. To have written for years on other people’s tables, one’s papers being tidied up as if one left the room for ten minutes and remarks on ink spots distinctly seen floating in the air on returning; to have attempted as an alternative a scribbling on cramped kneeds or a dependence on traveller’s writing-cases which invariably unfold the wrong way, shooting all their contents into space; to have endured such trials and excepted nothing better for ages to come — that is the properly stern preparation for that moment when gingerly, shyly, with abashed, smirking awe one draws up one’s chair and is finally knee to knee with — natural confusion puts a bald framing or the word out of the question.
      You gaze at the desk, and all the quaint little brass handles and the mellowed mahagony sheen and the elegantly secretive little door gaze back at you, and that beautiful mutual intimacy is formed that can only exist between a human and his desk. It makes a compact with you. It promies — and there is something very trustworthy in a desk that has stood so staunchly and with such capacious dignity by unknown people of long past generations — it promises to hold tight all you give it, to remain graciously experienced in your eyes as long as you shall care to look at it, to support your aching, addled, empty head, to bear with whatever work you may see fit to do on its broad apron, and not be ashamed if only you on your part will humor its age and extablished penchanges by filling it to the best of your ability with papers of at least seeming importance, by keeping locked its more private and inward parts, by letting it with some sort of foundation keep up the air of self-contained importance which it has always loved to assume. You gayly promise that it shall have every opportunity of looking like a family lawyer, while it in turn shall assist you to pass yourself off on the more credulous part of society as a writer. With this well settled the understanding between you is complete, and from then on you face life with the supported, sheltered, substantial feeling of one who is owned by a desk.
      Naturally, it has its little failings. It gets dusty from the very first minute; in fact, it gets very dusty indeed, but this appealing weakness makes it dependent on you and only serves to endear it to you; then once in a while its pigeonholes secrete things, things you would like to find in rather a hurry and cannot induce them to give up, while oftener than is convenient its doddering old key goes off by itself and gets lost. But these things are expected of the aged, and you think what agonies and shame and bewilderment it must feel, with its conservative ideas and upright training, at some of the things you write while leaning familiarly, not to say impertinently, on its person. Ideas it is entirely out of sympathy with and cannot be expected to understand; light-mindedness it bluses for as an emptiness which it has never, except under extreme pressure, indulged in itself, and an inaccuracy and extravagance of statement over which its first owner — partner is the truer, kinder word — would have smashed his quill pen and pitched his sand-box across the room. All this it takes from you and warmly you defend it. If experts question its age and cock a critical eyebrow at the purity of its design, you no longer want to shield it as you might have in the early days before it had given proof of what it was willing to endure from you. You fling open its every part and stake your yearly income on its genuineness. The color may be a shade dark; you grant that two of the handles bear evidences of suspiciously sharp “tooling,” but these are not the tests you go by. It is its valiant spirit, its loyal patience, and ripe, understanding leniency, which speaks so convincingly to you of age. These are not traits to be acquired in a few years. That desk has known many and divers natures, or how could it have learned the gift of sympathy and receptivity it daily displays toward you? It has been treated well by the world, but that was because from the beginning it was above question, and now it has attained quality. It is capable of a passion for its métier, a complete, whole-hearted deskiness that is the final crown of age. Which is the perfect reason why you sit before it when there is no thought or need of writing, but just love for the pleasure of its company, and explains your crusty, “No, that isn’t where I keep my stamps; I’ll get them for you myself” — a thin and perfectly discernible irritation at any hand less loving and congenial than yours as much as fingering its curved drawers.

27 August 2023