My Life and Loves, Book 1
To the Story of My Life and Loves
Go, soul, the body's guest,
Upon a thankless errand:
Fear not to touch the best,
The Truth shall be thy warrant. Sir Walter Raleigh HERE IN the blazing heat of an American August, amid the hurry and scurry of New York, I sit down to write my final declaration of Faith, as a preface or foreword to the story of my life. Ultimately it will be read in the spirit in which it has been written and I ask no better fortune. My journalism during the war and after the armistice brought me prosecutions from the federal government. The authorities at Washington accused me of sedition, and though the third postmaster general, ex-Governor Dockery, of Missouri who was chosen by the department as judge, proclaimed my innocence and assured me I should not be prosecuted again, my magazine (Pearson's) was time and again held up in the post, and its circulation reduced thereby to one-third. I was brought to ruin by the illegal persecution of President Wilson and his arch-assistant Burleson, and was laughed at when I asked for compensation. The American government, it appears, is too poor to pay for its dishonorable blunders.
I record the shameful fact for the benefit of those Rebels and Lovers of the Ideal who will surely find themselves in a similar plight in future emergencies. For myself I do not complain. On the whole I have received better treatment in life than the average man and more loving-kindness than I perhaps deserved. I make no complaint.
If America had not reduced me to penury I should probably not have written this book as boldly as the ideal demanded. At the last push of Fate (I am much nearer seventy than sixty) we are all apt to sacrifice something of Truth for the sake of kindly recognition by our fellows and a peaceful ending. Being that «wicked animal,» as the French say, «who defends himself when he is attacked,» I turn at length to bay, without any malice, I hope, but also without any fear such as might prompt compromise. I have always fought for the Holy Spirit of Truth and have been, as Heine said he was, a brave soldier in the Liberation War of Humanity: now one fight more, the best and the last.
There are two main traditions of English writing: the one of perfect liberty, that of Chaucer and Shakespeare, completely outspoken, with a certain liking for lascivious details and witty smut, a man's speech; the other emasculated more and more by Puritanism and since the French Revolution, gelded to tamest propriety; for that upheaval brought the illiterate middle-class to power and insured the domination of girl readers. Under Victoria, English prose literally became half childish, as in stories of «Little Mary,» or at best provincial, as anyone may see who cares to compare the influence of Dickens, Thackeray and Reade in the world with the influence of Balzac, Flaubert and Zola.
Foreign masterpieces such as Les Contes Drolatiques and L'Assommoir were destroyed in London as obscene by a magistrate's order; even the Bible and Shakespeare were expurgated and all books dolled up to the prim decorum of the English Sunday-school. And America with unbecoming humility worsened the disgraceful, brainless example.
All my life I have rebelled against this old maid's canon of deportment, and my revolt has grown stronger with advancing years.
In the foreword to The Man Shakespeare, I tried to show how the Puritanism that had gone out of our morals had gone into the language, enfeebling English thought and impoverishing English speech.