The time in which we live affords very few of such moments of relief: here and there a good piece of verse, in The New Age or in the now defunct Westminster: here and there a lapidary phrase such as a score or more of Blatchford’s which remain fixed in my memory. Here and there a letter written to the newspapers in a moment of indignation when the writer, not trained to the craft, strikes out the metal justly at white heat. But, I say, the thing is extremely rare, and in the shape of a complete book rarest of all.
The Wallet of Kai Lung was a thing made deliberately, in hard material and completely successful. It was meant to produce a particular effect of humour by the use of a foreign convention, the Chinese convention, in the English tongue. It was meant to produce a certain effect of philosophy and at the same time it was meant to produce a certain completed interest of fiction, of relation, of a short epic. It did all these things.
It is one of the tests of excellent work that such work is economic, that is, that there is nothing redundant in order or in vocabulary, and at the same time nothing elliptic—in the full sense of that word: that is, no sentence in which so much is omitted that the reader is left puzzled. That is the quality you get in really good statuary—in Houdon, for instance, or in that triumph the archaic Archer in the Louvre. The Wallet of Kai Lung satisfied all these conditions.
I do not know how often I have read it since I first possessed it. I know how many copies there are in my house—just over a dozen. I know with what care I have bound it constantly for presentation to friends. I have been asked for an introduction to this its successor, Kai Lung’s Golden Hours. It is worthy of its forerunner. There is the same plan, exactitude, working-out and achievement; and therefore the same complete satisfaction in the reading, or to be more accurate, in the incorporation of the work with oneself.
All this is not extravagant praise, nor even praise at all in the conventional sense of that term. It is merely a judgment: a putting into as carefully exact words as I can find the appreciation I make of this style and its triumph.
The reviewer in his art must quote passages. It is hardly the part of a Preface writer to do that. But to show what I mean I can at least quote the following:
“Your insight is clear and unbiased,” said the gracious Sovereign. “But however entrancing it is to wander unchecked through a garden of bright images, are we not enticing your mind from another subject of almost equal importance?”
“It has been said,” he began at length, withdrawing his eyes reluctantly from an usually large insect upon the ceiling and addressing himself to the maiden, “that there are few situations in life that cannot be honourably settled, and without any loss of time, either by suicide, a bag of gold, or by thrusting a despised antagonist over the edge of a precipice on a dark night.”