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Muslin   By: (1852-1933)

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Originally published under the title of 'A Drama in Muslin,' 1886.

New Edition, September, 1915.


My excuse for modifying the title of this book is, that A Drama in Muslin has long seemed to me to be the vulgar one among the titles of my many books. But to change the title of a book that has been in circulation, however precarious, for more than thirty years, is not permissible, and that is why I rejected the many titles that rose up in my mind while correcting the proofs of this new edition. In Neophytes , D├ębutantes , and The Baiting of Mrs. Barton , readers would have divined a new story, but the dropping out of the unimportant word 'drama' will not deceive the most casual follower of literature. The single word 'muslin' is enough. Mousseline would be more euphonious, a fuller, richer word; and Bal Blanc , besides being more picturesque, would convey my meaning; but a shade of meaning is not sufficient justification for the use of French titles or words, for they lessen the taste of our language; we don't get the smack, and Milord's epigrams poisoned my memory of A Drama in Muslin . But they cannot be omitted without much re writing, I said, and remembering my oath never to attempt the re writing of an old book again, I fell back on the exclusion of A Drama in Muslin as the only way out of the dilemma. A wavering resolution was precipitated by recollection of some disgraceful pages, but a moment after I was thinking that the omission of the book would create a hiatus. A Drama in Muslin , I reflected, is a link between two styles; and a book that has achieved any notoriety cannot be omitted from a collected edition, so my publishers said, and they harped on this string, until one day I flung myself out of their office and rattled down the stairs muttering, 'What a smell of shop!' But in the Strand near the Cecil Inn, the thought glided into my mind that the pages that seemed so disgraceful in memory might not seem so in print, 'and the only way to find out if this be so,' the temptation continued, 'will be to ask the next policeman the way to Charing Cross Road.' Another saw me over a dangerous crossing (London is the best policed city in Europe), a third recommended a shop 'over yonder: you've just passed it by, sir.' 'Thank you, thank you,' I cried back, and no sooner was I on the other side than, overcome by shyness, as always in these stores of dusty literature, I asked for the Drama in Muslin , pronouncing the title so timidly that the bookseller guessed me at once to be the author, and began telling of the books that were doing well in first editions. 'If I had any I wanted to get rid of?' he mentioned several he would be glad to buy. Whereupon in turn I grew confidential and confided to him my present dilemma, failing, however, to dissuade him from his opinion that A Drama in Muslin ought to be included. 'Any corrections you make in the new edition will keep up the price of the old,' he added as he wrapped up the brown paper parcel. 'You will like the book better than you think for.' 'Thank you, thank you,' I cried after me, and hopped into a taxi, unsuspicious that I carried a delightful evening under my arm. A comedy novel, written with sprightliness and wit, I said, as I turned to the twentieth page, and it needs hardly any editing. A mere re tying of a few bows that the effluxion of time has untied, or were never tied by the author, who, if I remember right, used to be less careful of his literary appearance than his prefacer, neglecting to examine his sentences, and to scan them as often as one might expect from an admirer, not to say disciple, of Walter Pater.

An engaging young man rose out of the pages of his book, one that Walter Pater would admire (did admire), one that life, I added, seems to have affected through his senses violently, and who was (may we say therefore) a little over anxious to possess himself of a vocabulary which would suffer him to tell all he saw, heard, smelt and touched... Continue reading book >>

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