TO MY READERS.
“A new Preface” is, I find, promised with my story. If there are any among my readers who loved Aesop’s Fables chiefly on account of the Moral appended, they will perhaps be pleased to turn backward and learn what I have to say here.
This tale forms a natural sequence to a former one, which some may remember, entitled “Elsie Venner.” Like that,—it is intended for two classes of readers, of which the smaller one includes the readers of the “Morals” in Aesop and of this Preface.
The first of the two stories based itself upon an experiment which some thought cruel, even on paper. It imagined an alien element introduced into the blood of a human being before that being saw the light. It showed a human nature developing itself in conflict with the ophidian characteristics and instincts impressed upon it during the pre-natal period. Whether anything like this ever happened, or was possible, mattered little: it enabled me, at any rate, to suggest the limitations of human responsibility in a simple and effective way.
The story which follows comes more nearly within the range of common experience. The successive development of inherited bodily aspects and habitudes is well known to all who have lived long enough to see families grow up under their own eyes. The same thing happens, but less obviously to common observation, in the mental and moral nature. There is something frightful in the way in which not only characteristic qualities, but particular manifestations of them, are repeated from generation to generation. Jonathan Edwards the younger tells the story of a brutal wretch in New Haven who was abusing his father, when the old man cried out, “Don’t drag me any further, for I did n’t drag my father beyond this tree.” [The original version of this often-repeated story may be found in Aristotle’s Ethics, Book 7th, Chapter 7th.] I have attempted to show the successive evolution of some inherited qualities in the character of Myrtle Hazard, not so obtrusively as to disturb the narrative, but plainly enough to be kept in sight by the small class of preface-readers.
If I called these two stories Studies of the Reflex Function in its higher sphere, I should frighten away all but the professors and the learned ladies. If I should proclaim that they were protests against the scholastic tendency to shift the total responsibility of all human action from the Infinite to the finite, I might alarm the jealousy of the cabinet-keepers of our doctrinal museums. By saying nothing about it, the large majority of those whom my book reaches, not being preface-readers, will never suspect anything to harm them beyond the simple facts of the narrative.