When in 1880 the author published ‘Mehalah,’ his critics, public and private, attacked him or remonstrated with him because there was no moral to the story—because ‘Mehalah’ was not, as the Germans would say, a Tendenzroman. No doubt that life is but an acted Æsop’s Fables, in which the actors are human, but it is surely allowable in an author to take wings occasionally, and fly away from the stings and goads of moral applications which prog one in everyday life, into the region of unmoralising fancy. However, in his second attempt, ‘John Herring,’ he did have a moral purpose throughout his story, and his critics, public and private, with one accord—only excepting a couple of Scottish reviewers—failed to see it. He complained of this one day to one of his critics, who replied, ‘We have no time to dive for purposes, we skim for story.’ That is true generally of the English reader, specially of the novel reader, who dips but does not plunge. Therefore the author acknowledges that he made a mistake. A purpose, a moral, must not be sunk in the depths like a pearl, but tossed up on the margin as the amber, conspicuous to the first passer-by.
His object in ‘John Herring’ was to show that man’s character is only moulded by mistakes. His reviewers objected that his hero was characterless: that was his purpose—to show an amiable, well-intentioned man, shaped by his misfortunes. There was another, and deeper, purpose in the story, which was to show how a noble character can only be formed which has before it an ideal, and that the ideal which elevates character is ever, and ever must be, unattainable. The man without an ideal sinks; the man with one rises; but in so rising passes through agonies. This life is his purgatory. Only the man without an ideal is happy—brutally happy.
And now the author will correct his previous error, and expose the purpose of this new story at the outset. To do this, he will tell the story of its inception.
In the summer of 1883, as he was returning from his holiday in Tyrol, he came across an account of a Croatian mother who, in a state of absolute destitution, pawned her child to save its life and pro-
- Tendenzroman means “tendency novel” in English and refers to a novel written or produced in order to promote a cause or serve a rhetorical purpose that the writing itself never makes explicit. These purposes are typically social, political, or moral.