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Strange Stories

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(1884)



Preface:

It is with some little trepidation that I venture to submit to the
critical world this small collection of short stories. I feel that in
doing so I owe some apology both to my readers and to the regular
story-tellers. Being by trade a psychologist and scientific journeyman,
I have been bold enough at times to stray surreptitiously and
tentatively from my proper sphere into the flowery fields of pure
fiction. Some of these my divarications from the strict path of sterner
science, however, having been already publicly performed under the
incognito of "J. Arbuthnot Wilson," have been so far condoned by
generous and kindly critics that I am emboldened to present them to the
judgment of readers under a more permanent form, and even to dispense
with the convenient cloak of a pseudonym, under which one can always so
easily cover one's hasty retreat from an untenable position. I can only
hope that my confession will be accepted in partial extenuation of this
culpable departure from the good old rule, "Ne sutor ultra crepidam;"
and that older hands at the craft of story-telling will pardon an
amateur novice his defective workmanship on the general plea of his
humble demeanour.

I may perhaps also venture to plead in self-defence that though these
stories do not profess to be anything more than mere short sensational
tales, I have yet endeavoured to give to most of them some slight tinge
of scientific or psychological import and meaning. "The Reverend John
Creedy," for example, is a study from within of a singular persistence
of hereditary character, well known to all students of modern
anthropological papers and reports. Members of barbarous or savage
races, trained for a time in civilized habits, are liable at any moment
to revert naturally to their primitive condition, especially under the
contagious influence of companionship with persons of their own blood,
and close subjection to the ancestral circumstances. The tale which I
have based upon several such historical instances in real life
endeavours briefly to hint at the modes of feeling likely to accompany
such a relapse into barbarism in an essentially fine and sensitive
savage nature. To most European readers, no doubt, such a sheer fall
from the pinnacle of civilization to the nethermost abysses of savagery,
would seem to call for the display of no other emotion than pure disgust
and aversion; but those who know intimately the whole gamut of the
intensely impressionable African mind will be able to treat its
temptations and its tendencies far more sympathetically. In "The Curate
of Churnside," again, I have tried to present a psychical analysis of a
temperament not uncommon among the cultured class of the Italian
Renaissance, and less rare than many people will be inclined to imagine
among the colder type of our own emancipated and cultivated classes. The
union of high intellectual and æsthetic culture with a total want of
moral sensibility is a recognized fact in many periods of history,
though our own age is singularly loth to admit of its possibility in its
own contemporaries. In "Ram Das of Cawnpore," once more, I have
attempted to depict a few circumstances of the Indian Mutiny as they
must naturally have presented themselves to the mind and feelings of a
humble native actor in that great and terrible drama. Accustomed
ourselves to looking always at the massacres and reprisals of the Mutiny
from a purely English point of view, we are liable to forget that every
act of the mutineers and their aiders or abettors must have been fully
justified in their own eyes, at the moment at least, as every act of
every human being always is to his own inner personality. In his
conscience of conscience, no man ever really believes that under given
circumstances he could conceivably have acted otherwise than he actually
did. If he persuades himself that he does really so believe, then he
shows himself at once to be a very poor introspective psychologist. "The
Child of the Phalanstery," to take another case, is a more ideal effort
to realize the moral conceptions of a community brought up under a
social and ethical environment utterly different from that by which we
ourselves are now surrounded. In like manner, almost all the stories
(except the lightest among them) have their germ or prime motive in some
scientific or quasi-scientific idea; and this narrow link which thus
connects them at bottom with my more habitual sphere of work must serve
as my excuse to the regular story-tellers for an otherwise unwarrantable
intrusion upon their private preserves. I trust they will forgive me on
this plea for my trespass on their legitimate domains, and allow me to
occupy in peace a little adjacent corner of unclaimed territory, which
lies so temptingly close beside my own small original freehold.

I should add that "The Reverend John Creedy," "The Curate of Churnside,"
"Dr. Greatrex's Engagement," and "The Backslider," have already appeared
in the Cornhill Magazine; while "The Foundering of the Fortuna" was
first published in Longman's Magazine. The remainder of the tales
comprised in this volume have seen the light originally in the pages of
Belgravia. I have to thank the courtesy of the publishers and editors
of those periodicals for kind permission to reprint them here.

Grant Allen,
The Nook, Dorking,
October 12, 1884.

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