Is all our Life, then, but a dream
Seen faintly in the golden gleam
Athwart Time’s dark resistless stream?
Bowed to the earth with bitter woe,
Or laughing at some raree-show,
We flutter idly to and fro.
Man’s little Day in haste we spend,
And, from its merry noontide, send
No glance to meet the silent end.
The Chapters, headed ‘Fairy Sylvie’ and ‘Bruno’s Revenge,’ are a reprint, with a few alterations, of a little fairy-tale which I wrote in the year 1867, at the request of the late Mrs. Gatty, for ‘Aunt Judy’s Magazine,’ which she was then editing.
It was in 1874, I believe, that the idea first occurred to me of making it the nucleus of a longer story. As the years went on, I jotted down, at odd moments, all sorts of odd ideas, and fragments of dialogue, that occurred to me — who knows how? — with a transitory suddenness that left me no choice but either to record them then and there, or to abandon them to oblivion. Sometimes one could trace to their x source these random flashes of thought — as being suggested by the book one was reading, or struck out from the ‘flint’ of one’s own mind by the ‘steel’ of a friend’s chance remark — but they had also a way of their own, of occurring, à propos of nothing — specimens of that hopelessly illogical phenomenon, ‘an effect without a cause.’ Such, for example, was the last line of ‘The Hunting of the Snark,’ which came into my head (as I have already related in ‘The Theatre’ for April, 1887) quite suddenly, during a solitary walk: and such, again, have been passages which occurred in dreams, and which I cannot trace to any antecedent cause whatever. There are at least two instances of such dream-suggestions in this book — one, my Lady’s remark, ‘it often runs in families, just as a love for pastry does’; the other, Eric Lindon’s badinage about having been in domestic service.
And thus it came to pass that I found myself at last in possession of a huge unwieldy mass of litterature — if the reader will kindly excuse the spelling — which only needed stringing together, upon the thread of a consecutive story, to constitute the book I hoped to write. Only! The task, at first, seemed absolutely hopeless, and gave me a far clearer idea, than I ever had before, of the meaning of the word ‘chaos’: and I think it must have been ten years, or more, before I had succeeded in classifying these odds-and-ends sufficiently to see what sort of a story they indicated: for the story had to grow out of the incidents, not the incidents out of the story.
I am telling all this, in no spirit of egoism, but because I really believe that some of my readers will be interested in these details of the ‘genesis’ of a book, which looks so simple and straight-forward a matter, when completed, that they might suppose it to have been written straight off, page by page, as one would write a letter, beginning at the beginning and ending at the end.
It is, no doubt, possible to write a story in that way: and, if it be not vanity to say so, I believe that I could, myself, — if I were in the unfortunate position (for I do hold it to be a real misfortune) of being obliged to produce a given amount of fiction in a given time, — that I could ‘fulfil my task,’ and produce my ‘tale of bricks,’ as other slaves have done. One thing, at any rate, I could guarantee as to the story so produced — that it should be utterly commonplace, should contain no new ideas whatever, and should be very very weary reading!
This species of literature has received the very appropriate name of ‘padding’ — which might fitly be defined as ‘that which all can write and none can read.’ That the present volume contains no such writing I dare not avow: sometimes, in order to bring a picture into its proper place, it has been necessary to eke out a page with two or three extra lines: but I can honestly say I have put in no more than I was absolutely compelled to do.
My readers may perhaps like to amuse themselves by trying to detect, in a given passage, the one piece of ‘padding’ it contains. While arranging the ‘slips’ into pages, I found that the passage, which now extends from the top of p. 35 to the middle of p. 38 , was 3 lines too short. I supplied the deficiency, not by interpolating a word here and a word there, but by writing in 3 consecutive lines. Now can my readers guess which they are?
A harder puzzle — if a harder be desired — would be to determine, as to the Gardener’s Song, in which cases (if any) the stanza was adapted to the surrounding text, and in which (if any) the text was adapted to the stanza.
Perhaps the hardest thing in all literature — at least I have found it so: by no voluntary effort can I accomplish it: I have to take it as it comes — is to write anything original. And perhaps the easiest is, when once an original line has been struck out, to follow it up, and to write any amount more to the same tune. I do not know if ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was an original story — I was, at least, no conscious imitator in writing it — but I do know that, since it came out, something like a dozen story-books have appeared, on identically the same pattern. The path I timidly explored — believing myself to be ‘the first that ever burst into that silent sea’ — is now a beaten high-road: all the way-side flowers have long ago been trampled into the dust: and it would be courting disaster for me to attempt that style again.