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With a Preface






Not having even been asked to do so, I write this preface from admiration of the book. The translation I have not yet seen, but knowing previous work by the same hand, have confidence in it.

How much the story is founded on fact I cannot tell; a substratum of fact there must be. To know that such a man once lived as is represented in it, might well wake a new feeling of both strength and obligation: here is one who, with absolutely no help from what is commonly meant by education , lived heroically. But be the tale as much a product of the imagination as the wildest romance, it remains a significant fact that the generation has produced a man capable of such an ideal.

For the more evident tendency of art has for some time been to an infinite degeneracy. The cry of "Art for art's sake," as a protest against the pursuit of art for the sake of money or fame, one can recognize in its half wisdom, knowing the right cry to be, "Art for truth's sake!" But when certain writers tell us that the true aim of the author of fiction is to give the people what they want, namely, a reflection, as in a mirror, of themselves a mirror not such as will show them to themselves as they are, but as they seem to each other, some of us feel that we stand on the verge of an abyss of falsehood. The people in whose favour they seem to live and move and have their being desire, they say, no admixture of further object, nothing to indicate they ought not to be what they are, or show them what they ought to be: they acknowledge no relations with the ideal, only with that which is themselves, namely, and what they think and do. Such writers do not understand that nothing does or can exist except the ideal; nor is their art philosophy other than "procuress to the lords of hell." Whoever has an ideal and is making no struggle toward it, is sinking into the outer darkness. The ideal is the end, and must be the object of life. Attained, or but truly conceived, we must think of it as the indispensable.

It is, then, a great fact of the age that, such low ends being advocated, and men everywhere insisting on a miserable origin and miserable prospects for humanity, there should yet appear in it a man with artistic conception of a lofty ideal, and such artistic expression of the same as makes it to us not conceivable only, but humanly credible. For an ideal that is impossible is no ideal; it is a fancy, no imagination. Our author keeps his narrative entirely consistent with human nature not, indeed, human nature as degraded, disjointed, and unworthy, neither human nature as ideally perfect, but human nature as reaching after the perfection of doing the duty that is plainly perceived. In none of its details is the story unlikely. We may doubt if such a man as Taras ever lived; but alas for him who has no hope that such a man will ever be!

The reader must not suppose I would have everything the man did regarded as right . On the contrary, the man becomes bitterly aware of his errors errors of knowledge, however, of judgment and of belief, be it understood not of conduct as required by that belief, knowledge, and judgment. His head is at a loss rather than in fault; heart and will are pure. A good man may do the most mistaken things with such conviction of their rectitude as to be even bound to do them. How far he might be to blame for not knowing or judging better, God only could tell... Continue reading book >>

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