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Mirror of the Sea

Less perhaps than any other book written by me, or anybody else, does
this volume require a Preface. Yet since all the others including even
the "Personal Record", which is but a fragment of biography, are to have
their Author's Notes, I cannot possibly leave this one without, lest a
false impression of indifference or weariness should be created. I can
see only too well that it is not going to be an easy task.
Necessity--the mother of invention--being even unthinkable in this case,
I do not know what to invent in the way of discourse; and necessity
being also the greatest possible incentive to exertion I don't even know
how to begin to exert myself. Here too the natural inclination comes in.
I have been all my life averse from exertion.

Under these discouraging circumstances I am, however, bound to proceed
from a sense of duty. This Note is a thing promised. In less than a
minute's time by a few incautious words I entered into a bond which has
lain on my heart heavily ever since.

For, this book is a very intimate revelation; and what that is revealing
can a few more pages add to some three hundred others of most sincere
disclosures? I have attempted here to lay bare with the unreserve of a
last hour's confession the terms of my relation with the sea, which
beginning mysteriously, like any great passion the inscrutable Gods send
to mortals, went on unreasoning and invincible, surviving the test of
disillusion, defying the disenchantment that lurks in every day of a
strenuous life; went on full of love's delight and love's anguish,
facing them in open-eyed exultation, without bitterness and without
repining, from the first hour to the last.

Subjugated but never unmanned I surrendered my being to that passion
which various and great like life itself had also its periods of
wonderful serenity which even a fickle mistress can give sometimes on
her soothed breast, full of wiles, full of fury, and yet capable of an
enchanting sweetness. And if anybody suggest that this must be the lyric
illusion of an old, romantic heart, I can answer that for twenty years I
had lived like a hermit with my passion! Beyond the line of the sea
horizon the world for me did not exist as assuredly as it does not exist
for the mystics who take refuge on the tops of high mountains. I am
speaking now of that innermost life, containing the best and the worst
that can happen to us in the temperamental depths of our being, where a
man indeed must live alone but need not give up all hope of holding
converse with his kind.

This perhaps is enough for me to say on this particular occasion about
these, my parting words, about this, my last mood in my great passion
for the sea. I call it great because it was great to me. Others may call
it a foolish infatuation. Those words have been applied to every love
story. But whatever it may be the fact remains that it was something too
great for words.

This is what I always felt vaguely; and therefore the following pages
rest like a true confession on matters of fact which to a friendly and
charitable person may convey the inner truth of almost a life-time. From
sixteen to thirty-six cannot be called an age, yet it is a pretty long
stretch of that sort of experience which teaches a man slowly to see and
feel. It is for me a distinct period; and when I emerged from it into
another air, as it were, and said to myself: "Now I must speak of these
things or remain unknown to the end of my days," it was with the
ineradicable hope, that accompanies one through solitude as well as
through a crowd, of ultimately, some day, at some moment, making myself

And I have been! I have been understood as completely as it is possible
to be understood in this, our world, which seems to be mostly composed
of riddles. There have been things said about this book which have moved
me profoundly; the more profoundly because they were uttered by men
whose occupation was avowedly to understand, and analyze, and
expound--in a word, by literary critics. They spoke out according to
their conscience, and some of them said things that made me feel both
glad and sorry of ever having entered upon my confession. Dimly or
clearly, they perceived the character of my intention and ended by
judging me worthy to have made the attempt. They saw it was of a
revealing character, but in some cases they thought that the revelation
was not complete.

One of them said: "In reading these chapters one is always hoping for
the revelation; but the personality is never quite revealed. We can only
say that this thing happened to Mr. Conrad, that he knew such a man and
that thus life passed him leaving those memories. They are the records
of the events of his life, not in every instance striking or decisive
events but rather those haphazard events which for no definite reason
impress themselves upon the mind and recur in memory long afterward as
symbols of one knows not what sacred ritual taking place behind the

To this I can only say that this book written in perfect sincerity holds
back nothing--unless the mere bodily presence of the writer. Within
these pages I make a full confession not of my sins but of my emotions.
It is the best tribute my piety can offer to the ultimate shapers of my
character, convictions, and, in a sense, destiny--to the imperishable
sea, to the ships that are no more and to the simple men who have had
their day.

J. C.


Joseph Conrad

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