BLTC Press Titles

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The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller

Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Hermenie Templeton Kavanagh

The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

A mortal antipathy

by Oliver Wendell Holmes


It is impossible to begin a story which must of necessity tax the powers of belief of readers unacquainted with the class of facts to which its central point of interest belongs without some words in the nature of preparation. Readers of Charles Lamb remember that Sarah Battle insisted on a clean-swept hearth before sitting down to her favorite game of whist.

The narrator wishes to sweep the hearth, as it were, in these opening pages, before sitting down to tell his story. He does not intend to frighten the reader away by prolix explanation, but he does mean to warn him against hasty judgments when facts are related which are not within the range of every-day experience. Did he ever see the Siamese twins, or any pair like them? Probably not, yet he feels sure that Chang and Eng really existed; and if he has taken the trouble to inquire, he has satisfied himself that similar cases have been recorded by credible witnesses, though at long intervals and in countries far apart from each other.


This is the first sweep of the brush, to clear the hearth of the skepticism and incredulity which must be got out of the way before we can begin to tell and to listen in peace with ourselves and each other.

One more stroke of the brush is needed before the stage will be ready for the chief characters and the leading circumstances to which the reader's attention is invited. If the principal personages made their entrance at once, the reader would have to create for himself the whole scenery of their surrounding conditions. In point of fact, no matter how a story is begun, many of its readers have already shaped its chief actors out of any hint the author may have dropped, and provided from their own resources a locality and a set of outward conditions to environ these imagined personalities. These are all to be brushed away, and the actual surroundings of the subject of the narrative represented as they were, at the risk of detaining the reader a little while from the events most likely to interest him. The choicest egg that ever was laid was not so big as the nest that held it. If a story were so interesting that a maiden would rather hear it than listen to the praise of her own beauty, or a poet would rather read it than recite his own verses, still it would have to be wrapped in some tissue of circumstance, or it would lose half its effectiveness.

It may not be easy to find the exact locality referred to in this narrative by looking into the first gazetteer that is at hand. Recent experiences have shown that it is unsafe to be too exact in designating places and the people who live in them. There are, it may be added, so many advertisements disguised under the form of stories and other literary productions that one naturally desires to avoid the suspicion of being employed by the enterprising proprietors of this or that celebrated resort to use his gifts for their especial benefit. There are no doubt many persons who remember the old sign and the old tavern and its four chief personages presently to be mentioned. It is to be hoped that they will not furnish the public with a key to this narrative, and perhaps bring trouble to the writer of it, as has happened to other authors. If the real names are a little altered, it need not interfere with the important facts relating to those who bear them. It might not be safe to tell a damaging story about John or James Smythfe; but if the slight change is made of spelling the name Smith, the Smythes would never think of bringing an action, as if the allusion related to any of them. The same gulf of family distinction separates the Thompsons with a p from the Thomsons without that letter.

There are few pleasanter places in the Northern States for a summer residence than that known from the first period of its settlement by the name of Arrowhead Village. The Indians had found it out, as the relics they left behind them abundantly testified. The commonest of these were those chipped stones which are the medals of barbarism, and from which the place took its name, — the heads of arrows, of various sizes, material, and patterns: some small enough for killing fish and little birds, some large enough for such game as the moose and the bear, to say nothing of the hostile Indian and the white settler; some of flint, now and then one of white quartz, and others of variously colored jasper. The Indians must have lived here for many generations, and it must have been a kind of factory village of the stone age,— which lasted up to near the present time, if we may judge from the fact that many of these relics are met with close to the surface of the ground.

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