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Wilfrid Cumbermede - Introduction Post by :otto_jurscha Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :664

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Wilfrid Cumbermede - Introduction

I am--I will not say how old, but well past middle age. This much I feel compelled to mention, because it has long been my opinion that no man should attempt a history of himself until he has set foot upon the border land where the past and the future begin to blend in a consciousness somewhat independent of both, and hence interpreting both. Looking westward, from this vantage-ground, the setting sun is not the less lovely to him that he recalls a merrier time when the shadows fell the other way. Then they sped westward before him, as if to vanish, chased by his advancing footsteps, over the verge of the world. Now they come creeping towards him, lengthening as they come. And they are welcome. Can it be that he would ever have chosen a world without shadows? Was not the trouble of the shadowless noon the dreariest of all? Did he not then long for the curtained queen--the all-shadowy night? And shall he now regard with dismay the setting sun of his earthly life? When he looks back, he sees the farthest cloud of the sun-deserted east alive with a rosy hue. It is the prophecy of the sunset concerning the dawn. For the sun itself is ever a rising sun, and the morning will come though the night should be dark.

In this 'season of calm weather,' when the past has receded so far that he can behold it as in a picture, and his share in it as the history of a man who had lived and would soon die; when he can confess his faults without the bitterness of shame, both because he is humble, and because the faults themselves have dropped from him; when his good deeds look poverty-stricken in his eyes, and he would no more claim consideration for them than expect knighthood because he was no thief; when he cares little for his reputation, but much for his character--little for what has gone beyond his control, but endlessly much for what yet remains in his will to determine; then, I think, a man may do well to write his own life.

'So,' I imagine my reader interposing, 'you profess to have arrived at this high degree of perfection yourself?'

I reply that the man who has attained this kind of indifference to the past, this kind of hope in the future, will be far enough from considering it a high degree of perfection. The very idea is to such a man ludicrous. One may eat bread without claiming the honours of an athlete; one may desire to be honest and not count himself a saint. My object in thus shadowing out what seems to me my present condition of mind, is merely to render it intelligible to my reader how an autobiography might come to be written without rendering the writer justly liable to the charge of that overweening, or self-conceit, which might be involved in the mere conception of the idea.

In listening to similar recitals from the mouths of elderly people, I have observed that many things which seemed to the persons principally concerned ordinary enough, had to me a wonder and a significance they did not perceive. Let me hope that some of the things I am about to relate may fare similarly, although, to be honest, I must confess I could not have undertaken the task, for a task it is, upon this chance alone: I do think some of my history worthy of being told, just for the facts' sake. God knows I have had small share of that worthiness. The weakness of my life has been that I would ever do some great thing; the saving of my life has been my utter failure. I have never done a great deed. If I had, I know that one of my temperament could not have escaped serious consequences. I have had more pleasure when a grown man in a certain discovery concerning the ownership of an apple of which I had taken the ancestral bite when a boy, than I can remember to have resulted from any action of my own during my whole existence. But I detest the notion of puzzling my reader in order to enjoy her fancied surprise, or her possible praise of a worthless ingenuity of concealment. If I ever appear to behave thus, it is merely that I follow the course of my own knowledge of myself and my affairs, without any desire to give either the pain or the pleasure of suspense, if indeed I may flatter myself with the hope of interesting her to such a degree that suspense should become possible.

When I look over what I have written, I find the tone so sombre--let me see: what sort of an evening is it on which I commence this book? Ah! I thought so: a sombre evening. The sun is going down behind a low bank of grey cloud, the upper edge of which he tinges with a faded yellow. There will be rain before morning. It is late Autumn, and most of the crops are gathered in. A bluish fog is rising from the lower meadows. As I look I grow cold. It is not, somehow, an interesting evening. Yet if I found just this evening well described in a novel, I should enjoy it heartily. The poorest, weakest drizzle upon the window-panes of a dreary roadside inn in a country of slate-quarries, possesses an interest to him who enters it by the door of a book, hardly less than the pouring rain which threatens to swell every brook to a torrent. How is this? I think it is because your troubles do not enter into the book and its troubles do not enter into you, and therefore nature operates upon you unthwarted by the personal conditions which so often counteract her present influences. But I will rather shut out the fading west, the gathering mists, and the troubled consciousness of nature altogether, light my fire and my pipe, and then try whether in my first chapter I cannot be a boy again in such fashion that my companion, that is, my reader, will not be too impatient to linger a little in the meadows of childhood ere we pass to the corn-fields of riper years.

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