I know that I can bear censure; I think I could endure neglect: but there is one thing which I will never forgive, and that is, any encroachment upon my personality. Whatever an author puts between the two covers of his book is public property; whatever of himself he does not put there is his private property, as much as if he had never written a word. I do not say, that any information which may be gathered, or any conjecture which may be hazarded, concerning the man or the woman who stands behind the mask of the author, may not be a lawful theme of conversation, if people are interested enough to make it so; but the appearance of any such information or conjecture in any public print, whether in the form of book-notice or news-item, I consider an unpardonable impertinence.
As this seems to me a matter of serious importance in the minor moralities, and one in which this people is verily guilty, I desire to be clearly understood. If any person writes a book or an article, and prefixes his name, he, in a manner, makes an unconditional surrender of himself. The public has perhaps the shadow of a right to ascertain and announce his birth place, his residence, his wife, the color of his eyes, the length of his beard, the precocity of his childhood, the college at which he was graduated, the hotel in which he is spending the summer months, and similar items—startling, if true—which are so dear to the public. But if he withholds himself, and writes under the signature of Apsby Jones, you, my dear Public, have no right or title to him. That is an indication that he wishes to remain unknown. You should respect his reticence. Though you may have heard from your brother-in-law or your grandmother that Apsby Jones is a Mr. Jonathan Jenkins of Kettleville, refrain scrupulously from printing that report; for, in the first place, you have probably been misinformed,—Jonathan Jenkins is not the man at all, and is made to feel extremely uncomfortable; and, in the second place, if he were the man, it would be shamefully impolite in you to rend away the veil in which he chose to drape himself. You may criticise his book to the top of your bent, but don t meddle with him. No matter if he was your schoolmate, no matter if he descended from a French refugee, no matter if he made a speech at your picnic ; you be quiet about it,—at least till he is dead. Doubtless he was very glad to have his book published, but doubtless he has insurmountable objections to being published himself.
This is a preface, Public, and you will readily see that I cannot talk as freely as I should like, because it will never do to put you in an ill-humor at the beginning ; but you must know, yourself, that you are very much given to illegal gossip. You have a cacoethes printendi. The moment you get hold, by fair means or foul, of the outermost fibre of the shred of the husk of the semblance of a fact, you go straightway and put it in the newspapers. You are not so much to blame. Your fathers did it before you, and I don t suppose you were ever told that it was ill-bred; but it is. Please not do it again. Be very sure to know whether the name on the title-page is a pen-name or a baptismal name. If it is the former, confine your remarks to the book and its relations; if it is the—latter you cannot do better than follow the same course.
I most eagerly desire, O Public, your good opinion, and especially your friendly feeling. I shall count it one of the greatest happinesses of my life if I succeed in pleasing you, and one of the greatest misfortunes if I do not. But if you commit this sin against me, I will never forgive you! Or, since that may be unscriptural, I will forgive you just enough to save my own soul, but not enough to be of any use to you.
When a country arrives at a certain state of perfection, it looks as if it were made so; and curiosity is not excited.
Quotidiana is an online anthology of "classical" essays, from antiquity to the early twentieth century. All essays and images are in the public domain. Commentaries are copyrighted, but may be used with proper attribution. Special thanks to the BYU College of Humanities and English Department for funding, and to Joey Franklin and Lara Burton, for tireless research assisting.