Some Reminiscences HTML version

Chapter 6
In the retrospect of a life which had, besides its preliminary stage of childhood and early
youth, two distinct developments, and even two distinct elements, such as earth and
water, for its successive scenes, a certain amount of naiveness is unavoidable. I am
conscious of it in these pages. This remark is put forward in no apologetic spirit. As years
go by and the number of pages grows steadily, the feeling grows upon one too that one
can write only for friends. Then why should one put them to the necessity of protesting
(as a friend would do) that no apology is necessary, or put, perchance, into their heads the
doubt of one's discretion? So much as to the care due to those friends whom a word here,
a line there, a fortunate page of just feeling in the right place, some happy simplicity, or
even some lucky subtlety, has drawn from the great multitude of fellow-beings even as a
fish is drawn from the depths of the sea. Fishing is notoriously (I am talking now of the
deep sea) a matter of luck. As to one's enemies, those will take care of themselves.
There is a gentleman, for instance, who, metaphorically speaking, jumps upon me with
both feet. This image has no grace, but it is exceedingly apt to the occasion--to the
several occasions. I don't know precisely how long he had been indulging in that
intermittent exercise, whose seasons are ruled by the custom of the publishing trade.
Somebody pointed him out (in printed shape, of course) to my attention some time ago,
and straightway I experienced a sort of reluctant affection for that robust man. He leaves
not a shred of my substance untrodden: for the writer's substance is his writing; the rest of
him is but a vain shadow, cherished or hated on uncritical grounds. Not a shred! Yet the
sentiment owned to is not a freak of affectation or perversity. It has a deeper, and, I
venture to think, a more estimable origin than the caprice of emotional lawlessness. It is,
indeed, lawful, in so much that it is given (reluctantly) for a consideration, for several
considerations. There is that robustness, for instance, so often the sign of good moral
balance. That's a consideration. It is not, indeed, pleasant to be stamped upon, but the
very thoroughness of the operation, implying not only a careful reading, but some real
insight into work whose qualities and defects, whatever they may be, are not so much on
the surface, is something to be thankful for in view of the fact that it may happen to one's
work to be condemned without being read at all. This is the most fatuous adventure that
can well happen to a writer venturing his soul amongst criticisms. It can do one no harm,
of course, but it is disagreeable. It is disagreeable in the same way as discovering a three-
card-trick man amongst a decent lot of folk in a third- class compartment. The open
impudence of the whole transaction, appealing insidiously to the folly and credulity of
mankind, the brazen, shameless patter, proclaiming the fraud openly while insisting on
the fairness of the game, give one a feeling of sickening disgust. The honest violence of a
plain man playing a fair game fairly--even if he means to knock you over--may appear
shocking, but it remains within the pale of decency. Damaging as it may be, it is in no
sense offensive. One may well feel some regard for honesty, even if practised upon one's
own vile body. But it is very obvious that an enemy of that sort will not be stayed by
explanations or placated by apologies. Were I to advance the plea of youth in excuse of
the naiveness to be found in these pages, he would be likely to say "Bosh!" in a column
and a half of fierce print. Yet a writer is no older than his first published book, and,