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Nocturne   By: (1884-1982)

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"'But do I see afore me, him as I ever sported with in his times of happy infancy? And may I may I?'

"This May I, meant might he shake hands?"

DICKENS, Great Expectations .

I do not know why I should be so overpoweringly reminded of the immortal, if at times impossible, Uncle Pumblechook, when I sit down to write a short preface to Mr. Swinnerton's Nocturne . Jests come at times out of the backwoods of a writer's mind. It is part of the literary quality that behind the writer there is a sub writer, making a commentary. This is a comment against which I may reasonably expostulate, but which nevertheless I am indisposed to ignore.

The task of introducing a dissimilar writer to a new public has its own peculiar difficulties for the elder hand. I suppose logically a writer should have good words only for his own imitators. For surely he has chosen what he considers to be the best ways. What justification has he for praising attitudes he has never adopted and commending methods of treatment from which he has abstained? The reader naturally receives his commendations with suspicion. Is this man, he asks, stricken with penitence in the flower of his middle age? Has he but just discovered how good are the results that the other game, the game he has never played, can give? Or has he been disconcerted by the criticism of the Young? The Fear of the Young is the beginning of his wisdom. Is he taking this alien spirited work by the hand simply to say defensively and vainly: "I assure you, indeed, I am not an old fogy; I quite understand it." (There it is, I fancy, that the Pumblechook quotation creeps in.) To all of which suspicions, enquiries and objections, I will quote, tritely but conclusively: "In my Father's house are many Mansions," or in the words of Mr. Kipling:

"There are five and forty ways Of composing tribal lays And every blessed one of them is right."

Indeed now that I come to think it over, I have never in all my life read a writer of closely kindred method to my own that I have greatly admired; the confessed imitators give me all the discomfort without the relieving admission of caricature; the parallel instances I have always wanted to rewrite; while, on the other hand, for many totally dissimilar workers I have had quite involuntary admirations. It isn't merely that I don't so clearly see how they are doing it, though that may certainly be a help; it is far more a matter of taste. As a writer I belong to one school and as a reader to another as a man may like to make optical instruments and collect old china. Swift, Sterne, Jane Austen, Thackeray and the Dickens of Bleak House were the idols of my youthful imitation, but the contemporaries of my early praises were Joseph Conrad, W.H. Hudson, and Stephen Crane, all utterly remote from that English tradition. With such recent admirations of mine as James Joyce, Mr. Swinnerton, Rebecca West, the earlier works of Mary Austen or Thomas Burke, I have as little kindred as a tunny has with a cuttlefish. We move in the same medium and that is about all we have in common.

This much may sound egotistical, and the impatient reader may ask when I am coming to Mr. Swinnerton, to which the only possible answer is that I am coming to Mr. Swinnerton as fast as I can and that all this leads as straightly as possible to a definition of Mr. Swinnerton's position. The science of criticism is still crude in its classification, there are a multitude of different things being done that are all lumped together heavily as novels, they are novels as distinguished from romances, so long as they are dealing with something understood to be real. All that they have in common beyond that is that they agree in exhibiting a sort of story continuum. But some of us are trying to use that story continuum to present ideas in action, others to produce powerful excitements of this sort or that, as Burke and Mary Austen do, while others again concentrate upon the giving of life as it is, seen only more intensely... Continue reading book >>

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