From the preface to The Path to Rome, 1902
I said, “I will start from the place where I served in arms for my sins; I will walk all the way and take advantage of no wheeled thing; I will sleep rough and cover thirty miles a day, and I will hear Mass every morning; and I will be present at high Mass in St. Peter’s on the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.”
Then I went out of the church still having that statue in my mind, and I walked again farther into the world, away from my native valley, and so ended some months after in a place whence I could fulfil my vow; and I started as you shall hear. All my other vows I broke one by one. For a faggot must be broken every stick singly. But the strict vow I kept, for I entered Rome on foot that year in time, and I heard high Mass on the Feast of the Apostles, as many can testify—to wit: Monsignor this, and Chamberlain the other, and the Bishop of so-and-so—o—polis in partibus infidelium; for we were all there together.
And why (you will say) is all this put by itself in what Anglo-Saxons call a Foreword, but gentlemen a Preface? Why, it is because I have noticed that no book can appear without some such thing tied on before it; and as it is folly to neglect the fashion, be certain that I read some eight or nine thousand of them to be sure of how they were written and to be safe from generalizing on too frail a basis.
And having read them and discovered first, that it was the custom of my contemporaries to belaud themselves in this prolegomenaical ritual (some saying in a few words that they supplied a want, others boasting in a hundred that they were too grand to do any such thing, but most of them baritoning their apologies and chanting their excuses till one knew that their pride was toppling over)—since, I say, it seemed a necessity to extol one’s work, I wrote simply on the lintel of my diary, Praise of this Book, so as to end the matter at a blow. But whether there will be praise or blame I really cannot tell, for I am riding my pen on the snaffle, and it has a mouth of iron.
Now there is another thing book writers do in their Prefaces, which is to introduce a mass of nincompoops of whom no one ever heard, and to say “my thanks are due to such and such” all in a litany, as though any one cared a farthing for the rats! If I omit this believe me it is but on account of the multitude and splendour of those who have attended at the production of this volume. For the stories in it are copied straight from the best authors of the Renaissance, the music was written by the masters of the eighteenth century, the Latin is Erasmus’ own; indeed, there is scarcely a word that is mine. I must also mention the Nine Muses, the Three Graces, Bacchus, the Maenads, the Panthers, the Fauns, and I owe very hearty thanks to Apollo.
Yet again, I see that writers are for ever anxious of their style, thinking (not saying)— “True, I used ‘and which’ on page 47, but Martha Brown the stylist gave me leave;” or: “What if I do end a sentence with a preposition? I always follow the rules of Mr. Twist in his ‘’Tis Thus ’Twas Spoke,’ Odd’s Body an’ I do not!”
Now this is a pusillanimity of theirs (the book writers) that they think style power, and yet never say as much in their Prefaces. Come, let me do so. Where are you? Let me marshal you, my regiments of words!