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PREFACE

IT

T would be easy, if need were, to devise a

theory of coherence for the Essays here selected for re-publication, but the truth is that they are fortuitous. The only claim that I can consistently make, is that I have always chosen, for biographical and critical study, figures whose personality or writings have seemed to me to possess some subtle, evasive charm, or delicate originality of purpose or view. Mystery, inexplicable reticence, haughty austerity, have a fascination in life and literature, that is sometimes denied to sanguine strength and easy volubility. I am well aware that vitality and majesty are the primary qualities to demand both in life and literature. I have nothing but rebellious horror for the view that languor, if only it be subtle and serpentine, is in itself admirable. But there are two kinds of languor. Just as the poverty of a man born needy, and incapable of acquiring wealth, is different in kind from the poverty of one who has sacrificed wealth in some noble cause, so the deliberate, the self-conscious languor "about three degrees on this side of faintness," of which Keats wrote in his most voluptuous mood, is a very different thing from the languor of Hamlet, the fastidious despair of ever realising some lofty conception, the prostrate indifference of one who has found the world too strong. I do not say that the note of failure is a characteristic of all the figures in my narrow gallery of portraits. But I will say that they were most of them persons about whom hung an undefined promise of greater strength than ever issued in performance. The causes of their comparative failure are difficult to disentangle. With one perhaps it was the want of a sympathetic entourage ; with another a dreamy or mystical habit of thought; with this one, the immersion in uncongenial pursuits ; with that a certain failure in physical vitality ; with another, the work, accomplished in dignified

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