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An Inland Voyage

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(1878)

~

Preface:

To equip so small a book with a preface is, I am half afraid, to
sin against proportion. But a preface is more than an author can
resist, for it is the reward of his labours. When the foundation
stone is laid, the architect appears with his plans, and struts for
an hour before the public eye. So with the writer in his preface:
he may have never a word to say, but he must show himself for a
moment in the portico, hat in hand, and with an urbane demeanour.

It is best, in such circumstances, to represent a delicate shade of
manner between humility and superiority: as if the book had been
written by some one else, and you had merely run over it and
inserted what was good. But for my part I have not yet learned the
trick to that perfection; I am not yet able to dissemble the warmth
of my sentiments towards a reader; and if I meet him on the
threshold, it is to invite him in with country cordiality.

To say truth, I had no sooner finished reading this little book in
proof, than I was seized upon by a distressing apprehension. It
occurred to me that I might not only be the first to read these
pages, but the last as well; that I might have pioneered this very
smiling tract of country all in vain, and find not a soul to follow
in my steps. The more I thought, the more I disliked the notion;
until the distaste grew into a sort of panic terror, and I rushed
into this Preface, which is no more than an advertisement for
readers.

What am I to say for my book? Caleb and Joshua brought back from
Palestine a formidable bunch of grapes; alas! my book produces
naught so nourishing; and for the matter of that, we live in an age
when people prefer a definition to any quantity of fruit.

I wonder, would a negative be found enticing? for, from the
negative point of view, I flatter myself this volume has a certain
stamp. Although it runs to considerably upwards of two hundred
pages, it contains not a single reference to the imbecility of
God's universe, nor so much as a single hint that I could have made
a better one myself.--I really do not know where my head can have
been. I seem to have forgotten all that makes it glorious to be
man.--'Tis an omission that renders the book philosophically
unimportant; but I am in hopes the eccentricity may please in
frivolous circles.

To the friend who accompanied me I owe many thanks already, indeed
I wish I owed him nothing else; but at this moment I feel towards
him an almost exaggerated tenderness. He, at least, will become my
reader: if it were only to follow his own travels alongside of
mine.

R.L.S.

~


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