Without a Home by Edward Payson Roe
Just ten years ago I took my first hesitating and dubious steps toward authorship. My reception on the part of the public has been so much kinder than I expected, and the audience that has listened to my stories with each successive autumn has been so steadfast and loyal, that I can scarcely be blamed for entertaining a warm and growing regard for these unseen, unknown friends. Toward indifferent strangers we maintain a natural reticence, but as acquaintance ripens into friendship there is a mutual impulse toward an exchange of confidences. In the many kind letters received I have gratefully recognized this impulse in my readers, and am tempted by their interest to be a little garrulous concerning my literary life, the causes which led to it, and the methods of my work. Those who are indifferent can easily skip these preliminary pages, and those who are learning to care a little for the personality of him who has come to them so often with the kindling of the autumn fires may find some satisfaction in learning why he comes, and the motive, the spirit with which, in a sense, he ventures to be present at their hearths.
One of the advantages of authorship is criticism; and I have never had reason to complain of its absence. My only regret is that I have not been able to make better use of it. I admit that both the praise and blame have been rather bewildering, but this confusion is undoubtedly due to a lack of the critical faculty. With one acute gentleman, however, who remarked that it "was difficult to account for the popularity of Mr. Roe's books," I am in hearty accord. I fully share in his surprise and perplexity. It may be that we at last have an instance of an effect without a cause.
Ten years ago I had never written a line of a story, and had scarcely entertained the thought of constructing one. The burning of Chicago impressed me powerfully, and obedient to an impulse I spent several days among its smoking ruins. As a result, my first novel, "Barriers Burned Away," gradually took possession of my mind. I did not manufacture the story at all, for it grew as naturally as do the plants--weeds, some may suggest--on my farm. In the intervals of a busy and practical life, and also when I ought to have been sleeping, my imagination, unspurred, and almost undirected, spun the warp and woof of the tale, and wove them together. At first I supposed it would be but a brief story, which might speedily find its way into my own waste-basket, and I was on the point of burning it more than once. One wintry afternoon I read the few chapters then written to a friend in whose literary taste I had much confidence, and had her verdict been adverse they probably would have perished as surely as a callow germ exposed to the bitter storm then raging without. I am not sure, however, but that the impulse to write would have carried me forward, and that I would have found ample return for all the labor in the free play of my fancy, even though editors and publishers scoffed at the result.
On a subsequent winter afternoon the incipient story passed through another peril. In the office of "The New York Evangelist" I read the first eight chapters of my blotted manuscript to Dr. Field and his associate editor, Mr. J. H. Dey. This fragment was all that then existed, and as I stumbled through my rather blind chirography I often looked askance at the glowing grate, fearing lest my friends in kindness would suggest that I should drop the crude production on the coals, where it could do neither me nor any one else further harm, and then go out into the world once more clothed in my right mind. A heavy responsibility rests on the gentlemen named, for they asked me to leave the manuscript for serial issue. From that hour I suppose I should date the beginning of my life of authorship. The story grew from eight into fifty-two chapters, and ran just one year in the paper, my manuscript often being ready but a few pages in advance of publication. I wrote no outline for my guidance; I merely let the characters do as they pleased, and work out their own destiny. I had no preparation for my work beyond a careful study of the topography of Chicago and the incidents of the fire. For nearly a year my chief recreation was to dwell apart among the shadows created by my fancy, and I wrote when and where I could--on steamboats and railroad cars, as well as in my study. In spite of my fears the serial found readers, and at last I obtained a publisher. When the book appeared I suppose I looked upon it much as a young father looks upon his first child. His interest in it is intense, but he knows well that its future is very doubtful.
It appears to me, however, that the true impulse toward authorship does not arise from a desire to please any one, but rather from a strong consciousness of something definite to say, whether people will listen or not. I can honestly assert that I have never manufactured a novel, and should I do so I am sure it would be so wooden and lifeless that no one would read it. My stories have come with scarcely any volition on my part, and their characters control me. If I should move them about like images they would be but images. In every book they often acted in a manner just the opposite from that which I had planned. Moreover, there are unwritten stories in my mind, the characters of which are becoming almost as real as the people I meet daily. While composing narratives I forget everything and live in an ideal world, which nevertheless is real for the time. The fortunes of the characters affect me deeply, and I truly believe that only as I feel strongly will the reader be interested. A book, like a bullet, can go only as far as the projecting force carries it.
The final tests of all literary and art work are an intelligent public and time. We may hope, dream, and claim what we please, but these two tribunals will settle all values; therefore the only thing for an author or artist to do is to express his own individuality clearly and honestly, and submit patiently and deferentially to these tests. In nature the lichen has its place as truly as the oak.
I will say but a few words in regard to the story contained in this volume. It was announced two years ago, but I found that I could not complete it satisfactorily. In its present form it has been almost wholly recast, and much broadened in its scope. It touches upon several modern and very difficult problems. I have not in the remotest degree attempted to solve them, but rather have sought to direct attention to them. In our society public opinion is exceedingly powerful. It is the torrent that sweeps away obstructing evils. The cleansing tide is composed originally of many rills and streamlets, and it is my hope that this volume may add a little to that which at last is irresistible.
I can say with sincerity that I have made my studies carefully and patiently, and when dealing with practical phases of city life I have evolved very little from my own inner consciousness. I have visited scores of typical tenements; I have sat day after day on the bench with the police judges, and have visited the station-houses repeatedly. There are few large retail shops that I have not entered many times, and I have conversed with both the employers and employes. It is a shameful fact that, in the face of a plain statute forbidding the barbarous regulation, saleswomen are still compelled to stand continuously in many of the stores. On the intensely hot day when our murdered President was brought from Washington to the sea-side, I found many girls standing wearily and uselessly because of this inhuman rule. There was no provision for their occasional rest. Not for a thousand dollars would I have incurred the risk and torture of standing through that sultry day. There are plenty of shops in the city which are now managed on the principles of humanity, and such patronage should be given to these and withdrawn from the others as would teach the proprietors that women are entitled to a little of the consideration that is so justly associated with the work of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Mr. Bergh deserves praise for protecting even a cat from cruelty; but all the cats in the city unitedly could not suffer as much as the slight growing girl who must stand during a long hot day. I trust the reader will note carefully the Appendix at the close of this book.
It will soon be discovered that the modern opium or morphia habit has a large place in this volume. While I have tried to avoid the style of a medical treatise, which would be in poor taste in a work of fiction, I have carefully consulted the best medical works and authorities on the subject, and I have conversed with many opium slaves in all stages of the habit. I am sure I am right in fearing that in the morphia hunger and consumption one of the greatest evils of the future is looming darkly above the horizon of society. Warnings against this poison of body and soul cannot be too solemn or too strong.
So many have aided me in the collection of my material that any mention of names may appear almost invidious; but as the reader will naturally think that the varied phases of the opium habit are remote from my experience, I will say that I have been guided in my words by trustworthy physicians like Drs. E. P. Fowler, of New York; Louis Seaman, chief of staff at the Charity Hospital; Wm. H. Vail, and many others. I have also read such parts of my MS. as touched on this subject to Dr. H. K. Kane, the author of two works on the morphia habit.
This novel appeared as a serial in the "Congregationalist" of Boston, and my acknowledgments are due to the editors and publishers of this journal for their confidence in taking the story before it was written and for their uniform courtesy.
I can truly say that I have bestowed more labor on this book than upon any which have preceded it; for the favor accorded me by the public imposes the strongest obligation to be conscientious in my work.