AND such, my friendly reader,
are my Recreations. It was pleasant to me, amid much work of a very
different kind, to write these essays. I trust that it has not been very
tiresome for you to read them.
There is a peculiar happiness which is known to the essayist. There is a
virtue about his work to draw the sting from the little worries of life. If
you fairly look some T^tty vexation of humanity in the face, and write an
account of it, it will never annoy you so much any more. It recurs: and it
annoys you : but you have a latent feeling of satisfaction at finding how
exactly accurate was your description of it; how completely your present
sensation runs into the mould you had made. It is a curious thing, too, that
there is a certain pleasure in writing about a thing which was very
unpleasant when it happened to one. You know how an artist makes a pleasing
picture out of a poor cottage, in which it would be very disagreeable to
live. You know how a great painter makes a picture, which you often like to
look at, of an event at which you would not have liked to have been present
You pause for a long time before the representation of some boors drinking;
or of a furious struggle in a guard-room; or of a murdered man lying dead.
Now, in fact, you would have got out of the way of such sights: the first
two would have been disgusting: the last, at least “a sorry sight.”
It is not quite a case in point, that we look with great interest and
pleasure at the representation of a sight which it would have been no worse
than sad to see. Such a sight may have ,been elevating as well as saddening.
I see a figure laid upon a bed: you know it is stiff and cold. It is a
female figure: there is the fixed but beautiful face. And through the open
window, I see in the west the summer sunset blazing, and the golden light
falling upon the pale features, and the closed eyes which will never open
more till the sun has ceased to shine. I do not wonder that the exquisite
genius of the painter fixed on such a scene, and preserved it with rigid
accuracy, and wrote beneath his picture such words as these:—
The sun shall no more be thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the
moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting
light, and thy God thy glory.
Thy sun shall no more go down j neither shall thy moon withdraw herself j
for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning
shall be ended.
But there is in this one respect an entire analogy between the feeling of
the artist and the feeling of the essayist: that to both, this world is to a
certain extent transfigured by the fact, that to each, things become
comparatively pleasing if they would please when described or depicted,
though they might be unpleasing in fact Not merely are those things good
which are good in themselves : those things are good which, though bad, will
please and interest when represented. It is extremely certain, that there is
a pleasure in writing about what there is no pleasure in bearing: and here
is a happiness of the essayist You are grossly cheated, my friend, by a man
of most respectable character. You are worried by some glaring instance of
that horrible dilatoriness, unfaithfulness, and stupidity, which come across
the successful issue of almost all human affairs. You are vexed, in short,
at seeing how creakingly and jarringly and uneasily the machine of life and
society manages to blunder on. -Well, you suffer; and you have no relief.
But the essayist’s painful feeling at such things is much mitigated when he
thinks that here is a subject for him: and when he goes and describes it.
Once, it was to me unrelieved and unalloyed pain to be cheated: or to listen
to the vapouring of some silly person. Now, though still I cannot say I like
it, still I dislike it less. I make a mental note. It will all go into an
essay. One gets something of the spirit of the morbid anatomist, to whom
some peculiar phase of disease is infinitely more interesting than
commonplace health. Interesting wrong becomes (must I confess it?) a finer
sight than uninteresting right You know how country servants rejoice in
coming to tell you that something is amiss: that a horse is lame, or a pig
dying, or a field of potatoes blighted. It is something to tell about
Perhaps the essayist knows the peculiar emotion.
I sometimes have thought that the writer of fiction is to be envied. He has
another life and world than that we see. He has a duality of being. He sits
down to his desk; and in a little he is far away, and away in a world where
he is absolute monarch. It has not been so with me. In writing these essays,
I have not been rapt away into heroic times and distant scenes, and into
romantic tracts of feeling. I have been writing amid daily work and worry,
of daily work and worry, and of the little things by which daily work and
worry are intensified or relieved. I cannot pretend to long experience of
life; nor perhaps to much. But from a quiet and lonely life, little varied,
and very happy, I have sent out these essays month by month; and I hope to
send out more.