Previous Convictions

Previous Convictions

Previous Convictions

Previous Convictions

Excerpt

The problem of the literary journalist who feels inhibited from completing larger projects is how to make a book. In the old days critics used to write very long articles and no one noticed that Macaulay's essays were book reviews or that Sainte- Beuve's Causeries du Lundi were what we call Sunday journalism. Now articles are much shorter and therefore more monotonous. The naked bones of reviewing cannot be concealed.

Why a book? Because we like to get the best of our ephemeral criticism between hard covers where it may be perpetuated a little longer and even refresh those to whom it is familiar besides influencing those who do not know it already. If I have a gift it is that of being able to communicate my enthusiasm for literature and throw a little light on my favourite authors -- and there are a great many. My last two books of collected essays are both out of print: I really don't know why one goes on. But a year or two's further circulation may still preserve many of these articles from the certain oblivion which would otherwise attend them and perhaps help to kindle a more fertile enthusiasm in new readers. And this book is so arranged that it builds up to a picture of the author; an ageing Narcissus complete with pool.

The plan is simple. It consists of four sections: the first, the visible world ('I am one of those for whom the visible world exists.' Gautier) consists of travel pieces, articles on the Rococo, on underwater fishing while there were still some fish, on animals before they became smart. I wanted to communicate my love of travel and also of works of art and the urgent necessity of preserving them and the beauties of nature above and below sea-level together with the threatened world of animals for which we now have a British rallying-point. The next section, 'The Grand . . .

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