At the same time, Mr. Conrad’s is not a genius without parentage or pedigree. His father was not only a revolutionary, but in some degree a man of letters. Mr. Conrad tells us that his own acquaintance with English literature began at the age of eight with The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which his father had translated into Polish. He has given us a picture of the child he then was (dressed in a black blouse with a white border in mourning for his mother) as he knelt in his father’s study chair, “with my elbows on the table and my head held in both hands over the pile of loose pages.” While he was still a boy he read Hugo and Don Quixote and Dickens, and a great deal of history, poetry, and travel. He had also been fascinated by the map. It may be said of him even in his childhood, as Sir Thomas Browne has said in general of every human being, that Africa and all her prodigies were within him. No passage in his autobiography suggests the first prophecy of his career so markedly as that in which he writes: “It was in 1868, when nine years old or thereabouts, that while looking at a map of Africa of the time and putting my finger on the blank space then representing the unsolved mystery of that continent, I said to myself with absolute assurance and an amazing audacity which are no longer in my character now: ’When I grow up I shall go there.’” Mr. Conrad’s genius, his consciousness of his destiny, may be said to have come to birth in that hour. What but the second sight of genius could have told this inland child that he would one day escape from the torturing round of rebellion in which the soul of his people was imprisoned to the sunless jungles and secret rivers of Africa, where he would find an imperishable booty of wonder and monstrous fear? Many people regard Heart of Darkness as his greatest story. Heart of Darkness surely began to be written on the day on which the boy of nine “or thereabouts” put his finger on the blank space of the map of Africa and prophesied.
He was in no hurry, however, to accomplish his destiny. Mr. Conrad has never been in a hurry, even in telling a story. He has waited on fate rather than run to meet it. “I was never,” he declares, “one of those wonderful fellows that would go afloat in a washtub for the sake of the fun.” On the other hand, he seems always to have followed in his own determined fashion certain sudden intuitions, much as great generals and saints do. Alexander or Napoleon could not have seized the future with a more splendid defiance of reason than did Mr. Conrad, when, though he did not yet know six words of English, he came to the resolve: “If a seaman, then an English seaman.” He has always been obedient to a star. He likes to picture himself as a lazy creature, but he is really one of the most dogged day-labourers who have ever served literature. In Typhoon and Youth he has written of the triumph of the spirit of man over tempest and