Notes on Life and Letters
I don't know whether I ought to offer an apology for this collection which has
more to do with life than with letters. Its appeal is made to orderly minds. This, to
be frank about it, is a process of tidying up, which, from the nature of things,
cannot be regarded as premature. The fact is that I wanted to do it myself
because of a feeling that had nothing to do with the considerations of worthiness
or unworthiness of the small (but unbroken) pieces collected within the covers of
this volume. Of course it may be said that I might have taken up a broom and
used it without saying anything about it. That, certainly, is one way of tidying up.
But it would have been too much to have expected me to treat all this matter as
removable rubbish. All those things had a place in my life. Whether any of them
deserve to have been picked up and ranged on the shelf--this shelf--I cannot say,
and, frankly, I have not allowed my mind to dwell on the question. I was afraid of
thinking myself into a mood that would hurt my feelings; for those pieces of
writing, whatever may be the comment on their display, appertain to the
character of the man.
And so here they are, dusted, which was but a decent thing to do, but in no way
polished, extending from the year '98 to the year '20, a thin array (for such a
stretch of time) of really innocent attitudes: Conrad literary, Conrad political,
Conrad reminiscent, Conrad controversial. Well, yes! A one-man show--or is it
merely the show of one man?
The only thing that will not be found amongst those Figures and Things that have
passed away, will be Conrad EN PANTOUFLES. It is a constitutional inability.
SCHLAFROCK UND PANTOFFELN! Not that! Never! . . . I don't know whether I
dare boast like a certain South American general who used to say that no
emergency of war or peace had ever found him "with his boots off"; but I may say
that whenever the various periodicals mentioned in this book called on me to
come out and blow the trumpet of personal opinions or strike the pensive lute
that speaks of the past, I always tried to pull on my boots first. I didn't want to do
it, God knows! Their Editors, to whom I beg to offer my thanks here, made me
perform mainly by kindness but partly by bribery. Well, yes! Bribery? What can
you expect? I never pretended to be better than the people in the next street, or
even in the same street.
This volume (including these embarrassed introductory remarks) is as near as I
shall ever come to DESHABILLE in public; and perhaps it will do something to
help towards a better vision of the man, if it gives no more than a partial view of a
piece of his back, a little dusty (after the process of tidying up), a little bowed, and
receding from the world not because of weariness or misanthropy but for other
reasons that cannot be helped: because the leaves fall, the water flows, the clock
ticks with that horrid pitiless solemnity which you must have observed in the
ticking of the hall clock at home. For reasons like that. Yes! It recedes. And this
was the chance to afford one more view of it--even to my own eyes.
The section within this volume called Letters explains itself, though I do not
pretend to say that it justifies its own existence. It claims nothing in its defence
except the right of speech which I believe belongs to everybody outside a