Youth




The three stories in this volume lay no claim to unity of artistic
purpose. The only bond between them is that of the time in which they
were written. They belong to the period immediately following the
publication of "The Nigger of the _Narcissus_," and preceding the first
conception of "Nostromo," two books which, it seems to me, stand apart
and by themselves in the body of my work. It is also the period during
which I contributed to _Maga_; a period dominated by "Lord Jim" and
associated in my grateful memory with the late Mr. William Blackwood's
encouraging and helpful kindness.

"Youth" was not my first contribution to _Maga_. It was the second. But
that story marks the first appearance in the world of the man Marlow,
with whom my relations have grown very intimate in the course of years.
The origins of that gentleman (nobody as far as I know had ever hinted
that he was anything but that)--his origins have been the subject of
some literary speculation of, I am glad to say, a friendly nature.

One would think that I am the proper person to throw a light on the
matter; but in truth I find that it isn't so easy. It is pleasant to
remember that nobody had charged him with fraudulent purposes or looked
down on him as a charlatan; but apart from that he was supposed to be
all sorts of things: a clever screen, a mere device, a "personator," a
familiar spirit, a whispering "dæmon." I myself have been suspected of
a meditated plan for his capture.

That is not so. I made no plans. The man Marlow and I came together in
the casual manner of those health-resort acquaintances which sometimes
ripen into friendships. This one has ripened. For all his assertiveness
in matters of opinion he is not an intrusive person. He haunts my hours
of solitude, when, in silence, we lay our heads together in great
comfort and harmony; but as we part at the end of a tale I am never sure
that it may not be for the last time. Yet I don't think that either of
us would care much to survive the other. In his case, at any rate, his
occupation would be gone and he would suffer from that extinction,
because I suspect him of some vanity. I don't mean vanity in the
Solomonian sense. Of all my people he's the one that has never been a
vexation to my spirit. A most discreet, understanding man....

Even before appearing in book-form "Youth" was very well received. It
lies on me to confess at last, and this is as good a place for it as
another, that I have been all my life--all my two lives--the spoiled
adopted child of Great Britain and even of the Empire; for it was
Australia that gave me my first command. I break out into this
declaration not because of a lurking tendency to megalomania, but, on
the contrary, as a man who has no very notable illusions about himself.
I follow the instinct of vain-glory and humility natural to all mankind.
For it can hardly be denied that it is not their own deserts that men
are most proud of, but rather of their prodigious luck, of their
marvellous fortune: of that in their lives for which thanks and
sacrifices must be offered on the altars of the inscrutable gods.

Heart of Darkness also received a certain amount of notice from the
first; and of its origins this much may be said: it is well known that
curious men go prying into all sorts of places (where they have no
business) and come out of them with all kinds of spoil. This story, and
one other, not in this volume, are all the spoil I brought out from the
centre of Africa, where, really, I had no sort of business. More
ambitious in its scope and longer in the telling, Heart of Darkness is
quite as authentic in fundamentals as Youth. It is, obviously, written
in another mood. I won't characterize the mood precisely, but anybody
can see that it is anything but the mood of wistful regret, of
reminiscent tenderness.

One more remark may be added. Youth is a feat of memory. It is a record
of experience; but that experience, in its facts, in its inwardness and
in its outward colouring, begins and ends in myself. Heart of Darkness
is experience, too; but it is experience pushed a little (and only very
little) beyond the actual facts of the case for the perfectly
legitimate, I believe, purpose of bringing it home to the minds and
bosoms of the readers. There it was no longer a matter of sincere
colouring. It was like another art altogether. That sombre theme had to
be given a sinister resonance, a tonality of its own, a continued
vibration that, I hoped, would hang in the air and dwell on the ear
after the last note had been struck.

After saying so much there remains the last tale of the book, still
untouched. The End of the Tether is a story of sea-life in a rather
special way; and the most intimate thing I can say of it is this: that
having lived that life fully, amongst its men, its thoughts and
sensations, I have found it possible, without the slightest misgiving,
in all sincerity of heart and peace of conscience, to conceive the
existence of Captain Whalley's personality and to relate the manner of
his end. This statement acquires some force from the circumstance that
the pages of that story--a fair half of the book--are also the product
of experience. That experience belongs (like "Youth's") to the time
before I ever thought of putting pen to paper. As to its "reality" that
is for the readers to determine. One had to pick up one's facts here and
there. More skill would have made them more real and the whole
composition more interesting. But here we are approaching the veiled
region of artistic values which it would be improper and indeed
dangerous for me to enter. I have looked over the proofs, have corrected
a misprint or two, have changed a word or two--and that's all. It is not
very likely that I shall ever read The End of the Tether again. No more
need be said. It accords best with my feelings to part from Captain
Whalley in affectionate silence.

J. C.

1917.




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