In expressing preferences I am transgressing an established rule of literary conduct, which ordains that an author must always speak of his own work with downcast eyes, excusing its existence on the ground of his own incapacity. All the same an author’s preferences interest his readers, and having transgressed by telling that these Irish stories lie very near to my heart, I will proceed a little further into literary sin, confessing that my reason for liking ‘The Lake’ is related to the very great difficulty of the telling, for the one vital event in the priest’s life befell him before the story opens, and to keep the story in the key in which it was conceived, it was necessary to recount the priest’s life during the course of his walk by the shores of a lake, weaving his memories continually, without losing sight, however, of the long, winding, mere-like lake, wooded to its shores, with hills appearing and disappearing into mist and distance. The difficulty overcome is a joy to the artist, for in his conquest over the material he draws nigh to his idea, and in this book mine was the essential rather than the daily life of the priest, and as I read for this edition I seemed to hear it. The drama passes within the priest’s soul; it is tied and untied by the flux and reflux of sentiments, inherent in and proper to his nature, and the weaving of a story out of the soul substance without ever seeking the aid of external circumstance seems to me a little triumph. It may be that I heard what none other will hear, not through his own fault but through mine, and it may be that all ears are not tuned, or are too indifferent or indolent to listen; it is easier to hear ‘Esther Waters’ and to watch her struggles for her child’s life than to hear the mysterious warble, soft as lake water, that abides in the heart. But I think there will always be a few who will agree with me that there is as much life in ‘The Lake,’ as there is in ’Esther Waters’—a different kind of life, not so wide a life, perhaps, but what counts in art is not width but depth.
Artists, it is said, are not good judges of their own works, and for that reason, and other reasons, maybe, it is considered to be unbecoming for a writer to praise himself. So to make atonement for the sins I have committed in this preface, I will confess to very little admiration for ‘Evelyn Innes’ and ‘Sister Teresa.’ The writing of ‘Evelyn Innes’ and ‘Sister Teresa’ was useful to me inasmuch that if I had not written them I could not have written ‘The Lake’ or ‘The Brook Kerith.’ It seems ungrateful, therefore, to refuse to allow two of my most successful books into the canon merely because they do not correspond with my aestheticism. But a writer’s aestheticism is his all; he cannot surrender it, for his art is dependent upon it, and the single concession he can make is that if an overwhelming demand should arise for these books when he is among the gone—a storm before which the reed must bend—the