The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes/A Study in Temptations/Preface

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This little work has been received with such extraordinary kindness, and the author has been scolded for its faults with such generosity and grace, that he could almost wish he might offend his critics again, if only for the honour of being so wittily rebuked. There is a story told of a man who begged his wife to tell him his besetting sin, "In order" said he, "that I may conquer it, and so please you in all respects." With much reluctance, and only after many exhortations to be honest, the lady replied that she feared he was selfish. "I am not perfect," said her husband, "and perhaps I am a sinful creature, but if there is one fault which I thank God I do not possess it is selfishness. Anything but that!" and as he spoke, he passed her the apples—they were at luncheon—and set himself to work on the only peach. Now the author is in the same frame of mind with regard to the charge of flippancy: he cannot bring himself to own that he is flippant: he longs to be told his short-comings, he is most eager to please his readers in all respects, but he will not admit that he is cynical—anything but that. He is by nature so extremely serious that, like the good angel who liked laughter, he has thought it wiser to curb his disposition at all events for the present. A greater part of the book was composed under the strain of bad health, and all of it in circumstances of peculiar anxiety. If the author had written as he felt and thought, the result would have been very far from amusing. And his sole aim has been to amuse. In times of illness, irritability, and grief, he has often cast about him for some light reading—simple yet not altogether meaningless, unreal yet not impossible: he has longed to draw a veil on actualities and see a shadow-life frisking on tiptoes, followed by a dance of sorrows and a merry-making of cares. He does not presume to say that he has fulfilled his own desire in the following pages, but the desire in question may explain their tone.

In conclusion, this fantasia makes no claim to the great title of novel, and is, indeed, no more than it is called—"A Study in Temptations"—and it will be found that at least one form of temptation, if not more, is dealt with in each chapter.