WHAT am I now about to write?
The history of little more than the events of one year, out of the twenty-four years
of my life.
Why do I undertake such an employment as this?
Perhaps, because I think that my narrative may do good; because I hope that,
one day, it may be put to some warning use. I am now about to relate the story of
an error, innocent in its beginning, guilty in its progress, fatal in its results; and I
would fain hope that my plain and true record will show that this error was not
committed altogether without excuse. When these pages are found after my
death, they will perhaps be calmly read and gently judged, as relics solemnized
by the atoning shadows of the grave. Then, the hard sentence against me may
be repented of; the children of the next generation of our house may be taught to
speak charitably of my memory, and may often, of their own accord, think of me
kindly in the thoughtful watches of the night.
Prompted by these motives, and by others which I feel, but cannot analyse, I now
begin my self-imposed occupation. Hidden amid the far hills of the far West of
England, surrounded only by the few simple inhabitants of a fishing hamlet on the
Cornish coast, there is little fear that my attention will be distracted from my task;
and as little chance that any indolence on my part will delay its speedy
accomplishment. I live under a threat of impending hostility, which may descend
and overwhelm me, I know not how soon, or in what manner. An enemy,
determined and deadly, patient alike to wait days or years for his opportunity, is
ever lurking after me in the dark. In entering on my new employment, I cannot
say of my time, that it may be mine for another hour; of my life, that it may last till
Thus it is as no leisure work that I begin my narrative--and begin it, too, on my
birthday! On this day I complete my twenty-fourth year; the first new year of my
life which has not been greeted by a single kind word, or a single loving wish. But
one look of welcome can still find me in my solitude--the lovely morning look of
nature, as I now see it from the casement of my room. Brighter and brighter
shines out the lusty sun from banks of purple, rainy cloud; fishermen are
spreading their nets to dry on the lower declivities of the rocks; children are
playing round the boats drawn up on the beach; the sea-breeze blows fresh and
pure towards the shore----all objects are brilliant to look on, all sounds are
pleasant to hear, as my pen traces the first lines which open the story of my life.