Lady Baltimore by Owen Wister - HTML preview
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To S. Weir Mitchell With the Affection and Memories of All My Life
To the Reader
You know the great text in Burns, I am sure, where he wishes he could see himself as others see him. Well, here lies the hitch in many a work of art: if its maker--poet, painter, or novelist--could but have become its audience too, for a single day, before he launched it irrevocably upon the uncertain ocean of publicity, how much better his boat would often sail! How many little touches to the rigging he would give, how many little drops of oil to the engines here and there, the need of which he had never suspected, but for that trial trip! That's where the ship-builders and dramatists have the advantage over us others: they can dock their productions and tinker at them. Even to the musician comes this useful chance, and Schumann can reform the proclamation which opens his B-flat Symphony.
Still, to publish a story in weekly numbers previously to its appearance as a book does sometimes give to the watchful author an opportunity to learn, before it is too late, where he has failed in clearness; and it brings him also, through the mails, some few questions that are pleasant and proper to answer when his story sets forth united upon its journey of adventure among gentle readers.
How came my hero by his name?
If you will open a book more valuable than any I dare hope to write, and more entertaining too, The Life of Paul Jones, by Mr. Buell, you will find the real ancestor of this imaginary boy, and fall in love with John Mayrant the First, as did his immortal captain of the Bon Homme Richard. He came from South Carolina; and believing his seed and name were perished there to-day, I gave him a descendant. I have learned that the name, until recently, was in existence; I trust it will not seem taken in vain in these pages.
Whence came such a person as Augustus?
Our happier cities produce many Augustuses, and may they long continue to do so! If Augustus displeases any one, so much the worse for that one, not for Augustus. To be sure, he doesn't admire over heartily the parvenus of steel or oil, whose too sudden money takes them to the divorce court; he calls them the 'yellow rich'; do you object to that? Nor does he think that those Americans who prefer their pockets to their patriotism, are good citizens. He says of such people that 'eternal vigilance cannot watch liberty and the ticker at the same time.' Do you object to that? Why, the young man would be perfect, did he but attend his primaries and vote more regularly,--and who wants a perfect young man?
What would John Mayrant have done if Hortense had not challenged him as she did?
I have never known, and I fear we might have had a tragedy. Would the old ladies really have spoken to Augustus about the love difficulties of John Mayrant?
I must plead guilty. The old ladies of Kings Port, like American gentlefolk everywhere, keep family matters sacredly inside the family circle. But you see, had they not told Augustus, how in the world could I have told--however, I plead guilty.
Certain passages have been interpreted most surprisingly to signify a feeling against the colored race, that is by no means mine. My only wish regarding these people, to whom we owe an immeasurable responsibility, is to see the best that is in them prevail. Discord over this seems on the wane, and sane views gaining. The issue sits on all our shoulders, but local variations call for a sliding scale of policy. So admirably dispassionate a novel as The Elder Brother, by Mr. Jervey. forwards the understanding of Northerners unfamiliar with the South, and also that friendliness between the two places, which is retarded chiefly by tactless newspapers.
Ah, tact should have been one of the cardinal virtues; and if I didn't possess a spice of it myself, I should here thank by name certain two members of the St. Michael family of Kings Port for their patience with this comedy, before ever it saw the light. Tact bids us away from many pleasures; but it can never efface the memory of kindness.