Now Edward was no very wonderful little boy; it may be that he was jealous and vain and greedy; yet now, it seemed as he lay in his small grave with the memory of Dorothy’s flowers about him, he had wrought this kindness for his sister. Yes, even though we heard no more than the birds in the branches and the wind swaying the scented bracken; even though he had passed with another summer, and the dead and the love of the dead may rise no more from the grave.
I. The writer
The history of a book must necessarily begin with the history of its author, for surely in these enlightened days neither the youngest nor the oldest of critics can believe that works of art are found under gooseberry-bushes or in the nests of storks. In truth, I am by no means sure that everybody knew this before the publication of “The Man Shakespeare,” and for the sake of a mystified posterity it may be well to explain that there was once a school of criticism that thought it indecent to pry into that treasure-house of individuality from which, if we reject the nursery hypotheses mentioned above, it is clearly obvious that authors derive their works. That the drama must needs be closely related to the dramatist is just one of those simple discoveries that invariably elude the subtle professional mind; but in this wiser hour I may be permitted to assume that the author was the conscious father of his novel, and that he did not find it surprisingly in his pocket one morning, like a bad shilling taken in change from the cabman overnight.
Before he published his novel at the ripe age of thirty-seven the author had lived an irreproachable and gentlemanly life. Born with at least a German-silver spoon in his mouth, he passed, after a normally eventful childhood, through a respectable public school, and spent several agreeable years at Cambridge without taking a degree. He then went into his uncle’s office in the City, where he idled daily from ten to four, till in due course he was admitted to a partnership, which enabled him to reduce his hours of idleness to eleven to three. These details become important when we reflect that from his childhood on the author had a great deal of time at his disposal. If he had been entirely normal, he would have accepted the conventions of the society to which he belonged, and devoted himself to motoring, bridge, and the encouragement of the lighter drama. But some deep-rooted habit of his childhood, or even perhaps some remote hereditary taint, led him to spend an appreciable fraction of his leisure time in the reading of works of fiction. Unlike most lovers of light literature, he read with a certain mental concentration, and was broad-minded enough to read good novels as well as bad ones.