Page:The Mantle and Other Stories.djvu/13

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9
PREFACE

neau. Just as the observation of animalculæ under the miscroscope fatigues the eye, so does the perusal of these brilliant pages tire the mind. Possibly not a word of them is superfluous, but possibly also they might be entirely eliminated from the work of which they form part, without sensibly detracting from its merit. The art of choosing among the innumerable details which nature offers us is, after all, much more difficult than that of observing them with attention and recording them with exactitude.

The Russian language, which is, as far as I can judge, the richest of all the European family, seems admirably adapted to express the most delicate shades of thought. Possessed of a marvellous conciseness and clearness, it can with a single word call up several ideas, to express which in another tongue whole phrases would be necessary. French, assisted by Greek and Latin, calling to its aid all its northern and southern dialects—the language of Rabelais, in fact, is the only one which can convey any idea of this suppleness and this energy. One can imagine that such an admirable instrument may exercise a considerable influence on the mind of a writer who is capable of handling it. He naturally takes delight in the picturesqueness of its expressions, just as a draughtsman with skill and a good pencil will trace delicate contours. An excellent gift, no doubt, but there are