General Introduction
 

With each volume of this subscription edition (1912) there is a special introduction, setting forth, in so far as seemed possible, the relation of each work to myself, to its companion works, and to the scheme of my literary life. Only one or two things, therefore, need be said here, as I wish God-speed to this edition, which, I trust, may help to make old friends warmer friends and new friends more understanding. Most of the novels and most of the short stories were suggested by incidents or characters which I had known, had heard of intimately, or, as in the case of the historical novels, had discovered in the works of historians. In no case are the main characters drawn absolutely from life; they are not portraits; and the proof of that is that no one has ever been able to identify, absolutely, any single character in these books. Indeed, it would be impossible for me to restrict myself to actual portraiture. It is trite to say that photography is not art, and photography has no charm for the artist, or the humanitarian indeed, in the portrayal of life. At its best it is only an exhibition of outer formal characteristics, idiosyncrasies, and contours. Freedom is the first essential of the artistic mind. As will be noticed in the introductions and original notes to several of these volumes, it is stated that they possess anachronisms; that they are not portraits of people living or dead, and that they only assume to be in harmony with the spirit of men and times and things. Perhaps in the first few pages of 'The Right of Way' portraiture is more nearly reached than in any other of these books, but it was only the nucleus, if I may say so, of a larger development which the original Charley Steele never attained. In the novel he grew to represent infinitely more than the original ever represented in his short life.

That would not be strange when it is remembered that the germ of The 'Right of Way' was growing in my mind over a long period of years, and it must necessarily have developed into a larger conception than the original character could have suggested. The same may be said of the chief characters in 'The Weavers'. The story of the two brothers--David Claridge and Lord Eglington--in that book was brewing in my mind for quite fifteen years, and the main incidents and characters of other novels in this edition had the same slow growth. My forthcoming novel, called 'The Judgment House', had been in my mind for nearly twenty years and only emerged when it was full grown, as it were; when I was so familiar with the characters that they seemed as real in all ways as though they were absolute people and incidents of one's own experience.

Little more need be said. In outward form the publishers have made this edition beautiful. I should be ill-content if there was not also an element of beauty in the work of the author. To my mind truth alone is not sufficient. Every work of art, no matter how primitive in conception, how tragic or how painful, or even how grotesque in design --like the gargoyles on Notre Dame must have, too, the elements of beauty--that which lures and holds, the durable and delightful thing. I have a hope that these books of mine, as faithful to life as I could make them, have also been touched here and there by the staff of beauty. Otherwise their day will be short indeed; and I should wish for them a day a little longer at least than my day and span.

I launch the ship. May it visit many a port! May its freight never lie neglected on the quays!