A Familiar Preface
As a general rule we do not want much encouragement to talk about ourselves; yet this
little book is the result of a friendly suggestion, and even of a little friendly pressure. I
defended myself with some spirit; but, with characteristic tenacity, the friendly voice
insisted: "You know, you really must."
It was not an argument, but I submitted at once. If one must!. . .
You perceive the force of a word. He who wants to persuade should put his trust, not in
the right argument, but in the right word. The power of sound has always been greater
than the power of sense. I don't say this by way of disparagement. It is better for mankind
to be impressionable than reflective. Nothing humanely great--great, I mean, as affecting
a whole mass of lives--has come from reflection. On the other hand, you cannot fail to
see the power of mere words; such words as Glory, for instance, or Pity. I won't mention
any more. They are not far to seek. Shouted with perseverance, with ardour, with
conviction, these two by their sound alone have set whole nations in motion and
upheaved the dry, hard ground on which rests our whole social fabric. There's "virtue" for
you if you like!. . . Of course the accent must be attended to. The right accent. That's very
important. The capacious lung, the thundering or the tender vocal chords. Don't talk to
me of your Archimedes' lever. He was an absent-minded person with a mathematical
imagination. Mathematics command all my respect, but I have no use for engines. Give
me the right word and the right accent and I will move the world.
What a dream--for a writer! Because written words have their accent too. Yes! Let me
only find the right word! Surely it must be lying somewhere amongst the wreckage of all
the plaints and all the exultations poured out aloud since the first day when hope, the
undying, came down on earth. It may be there, close by, disregarded, invisible, quite at
hand. But it's no good. I believe there are men who can lay hold of a needle in a pottle of
hay at the first try. For myself, I have never had such luck.
And then there is that accent. Another difficulty. For who is going to tell whether the
accent is right or wrong till the word is shouted, and fails to be heard, perhaps, and goes
down-wind leaving the world unmoved. Once upon a time there lived an Emperor who
was a sage and something of a literary man. He jotted down on ivory tablets thoughts,
maxims, reflections which chance has preserved for the edification of posterity. Amongst
other sayings--I am quoting from memory--I remember this solemn admonition: "Let all
thy words have the accent of heroic truth." The accent of heroic truth! This is very fine,
but I am thinking that it is an easy matter for an austere Emperor to jot down grandiose
advice. Most of the working truths on this earth are humble, not heroic: and there have
been times in the history of mankind when the accents of heroic truth have moved it to
nothing but derision.