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Twith a preface. I am by no means clear that I have
AN APOLOGY FOR A PREFACE.
any native desire to do this, while I am perfectly so, that whatever is written from an extraneous impulse alone must be a thing of naught.
The Moralist no doubt assures me that to do what we do not like is good for us. But here the question is rather what is good for other people, since it is for them that prefaces are intended; and this is a point about which I have observed that the most sincere lovers of their neighbour are apt to be mistaken.
Prefaces may be roughly classed in two general divisions. They either are apologetic or explanatory. In the one case they prompt the retort of Dean Swift to his deprecatory host, that he would go where he could get what he wanted for his money; in the other they seem to cast a slight on the reader's intelligence, who is apt to grumble, “Does the fellow fancy himself so mighty deep, then, that I can't catch his drift without a nudge from his elbow at every turn ?”
But whatever prefaces may be, their effect too commonly
AN APOLOGY FOR A PREFACE.
is to remind the reader of his experience at an Ordinary, where the imposing flourish with which the waiter lifts a cover is apt to be in inverse ratio to the merit of the viands he betrays. Nevertheless, all prefaces may be said to have one valid excuse for being-namely, that the judicious reader can, and generally does, skip them, thus securing one pleasurable emotion at least from his book, a success beyond the average, if I may trust my own experience.
And yet, feeling as I do my incompetence for this species of literature, in which I have had no more practice than one has in dying, having written but one in my life, I see no great harm in doing, out of mere good-nature or easiness of disposition, what I had rather not do at all, just as an indifferent whist-player may consent to take his place at table to make out a fourth hand. But if he should, one can only wish that he may be as sure of a saint as he is of a martyr in his partner. And this puts one upon thinking that in the game of prefaces one's vis-à-vis is the Public, and in no conceivable hagiology will that respected name (which, I think, has parted with some of its dignity in dropping its final K) ever appear with an S before, or, if its bearer have any choice in the matter, an M after it.
Meanwhile, having been asked for a few paragraphs only, I find that I have nearly completed the task imposed on me in making my excuses for not venturing to attempt it.