ROUND ABOUT A PREFACE
The title has become equivocal, since there are more green shades in employment now than were dreamed of by Andrew Marvell. Science is a great maker of homophones, without respect for the poets. There is, for instance, the demilune of lined buckram borne by the weak-eyed on their foreheads, the phylactery of the have-beens—I lay myself open to be believed a cripple, or to look an old fool. A vivacious reviewer in Punch’s “Booking Office,” will have a vision of me as a babbling elder peering at society from below a green pent. However—I must risk it. It says exactly what I mean; and what I have written I have written.
The point is that, having worked hard for a good many years, I can now consider my latter end under conditions favourable to leisurely and extended thought, sometimes in a garden made, if rightly made, in my own image, sometimes in a house which was built aforetime, in a day when men wrought for posterity as well as for themselves. In such seed-plots it is impossible that one’s thoughts should not take colour as they rise. Whithersoever I look I see as much permanency as is good for any sojourner upon earth; I see embodied tradition, respect for Nature’s laws, attention to beauty, subservience to use; all this within doors. Outside, the trees, the flowers are my calendar; the birds chime the hours; periodically the church-bell calls the travellers home. Between all these friendly monitors it is hard if one cannot keep the mean. If the passing-bell tempts me to moralise overmuch I may turn to the creatures, and learn to live for the moment. I should be slow to confess how much worldly wisdom I have won from what we choose to call the lower orders of creation, because nobody willingly betrays the whereabouts of his buried treasure, or the amount of it. Mr. Pepys, I remember, forgot both on a certain occasion, and had a devil of a time until he recovered his hoard. But my wealth was not made with hands, or not with my hands.
My house is fortunately placed, too, in the village street, so that I am in touch with my neighbours and their daily concerns, which I make mine so far as they are pleased to allow it. I am aware of them all day long by half a hundred signs; I know the trot of their horses, the horns of their motor-cars—that shows that there are not too many of them—the voices of their children, the death-shrieks of their pigs, the barking of their dogs. Not a day passes but one or other is in, to have some paper signed, to air a grievance, or to ask advice. The vicar and the minister are my good friends, and, I am glad to say, each other’s. The farmers understand my ways (it is as much as I can expect of them), and the labourers like them. All this keeps the pores of the mind open; you cannot stagnate if you are useful to other people. Nor—unless you are a fool—can you be strict with your categories. The more you know of men and systems the more overlapping you see. I could not now, for my life, pigeonhole my acquaintance in this village of five hundred souls. “I have now been in Italy two days,” Goethe wrote, “and I think I know my Italians pretty well!” When he had been there two years he knew better.