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TALE OF ALABAMA
BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, Esq.
AUTHOR OF THE YEMASSEE" "THE PARTISAN" —“ MELLICHAMPE".
34 BEEKMAN STREET, NEW YORK
AL 3414. 114.6
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1855,
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, in and for the Southern District of New York.
It might be of some use to such of our young authors as are just about to begin their career in letters, were I to state the reasons which governed me, some eighteen years ago, in giving this story, with several others of the same family, to the public, anonymously. But I am not prepared, just yet, to enter the confessional. The matter is of a sort to keep. I treasure up much curious literary history, the fruit of a protracted experience, in reserve for a day and volume of greater leisure and deliberation. Enough now, to say that I had my interest ay, and my fun too—in the mystery with which the publication of the work was originally clothed; and, if I had one counsel, over all, to impart to the young beginner, it should be to cling to the anonymous in literature as long as it will afford him a decent cover. Were I now, for the first time, beginning my own career, with the possession of the smallest part of my present experience, my left hand should never know what my right is doing. I should not only keep the public in ignorance of my peculiar labors, but I should, quite as religiously, keep the secret from my friends and associates. This is especially necessary, if you would be safe; if you would have anything like fair play; if you would escape from a thousand imperti
nences; if you would hope for any honest judgments. There are very few friends, indeed, to whom you can trust any of your secrets; and this of authorship, is one, which, of all others, is least easy to keep. Your friend is vain on your or on his own—which is much the most likely—and must blab, with even slighter precautions than were taken by the barber of King Midas. Even if he honestly keeps your secret, what is the profit to you in letting it out of your own hands? You must employ an agent in finding your way to the press, but this need not be one of those whom you rank among your friends. A business transaction may be kept secret; but a confidence, gratuitously given, is rarely safe. If you reveal a secret, unless from the necessity of the case, you may reasonably be supposed to desire its farther circulation. So friends mostly understand it.—And, do not deceive yourself with the notion, that, by confiding to the persons nearest to you, and who most share your sympathies, you can possibly derive any advantage from it. They can seldom serve you in any way. They can give no help to a reputation which is to be founded on your own real merits; no counsel, of any value in an art which they themselves do not profess, but which they are still very prone to teach; exercise no influence which is not apt, in some way, to prove pernicious; and, whether they praise or blame, are generally the worst judges to whom you could submit your productions. Go to your cook in preference. Your friends always find your own personality conflicting, in their minds, with your productions. They never separate you from your writings. Their personal and local associations perpetually start up to baffle the free influence of your works upon their thoughts and hearts; and they weigh your opinions, or your imaginations, or your designs and inventions, with a continual reference to yourself, as you appear in ordinary society. In society, you are perhaps nothing; silent as Gibbon-without any of the small change of conversation-that clinking currency
which best passes among ordinary people, and which need not be true coin, at all—though you may be able to draw for a thousand pounds and you thus socially appear at great disadvantage with the very persons to whom you confide your secret, and trustingly declare your labors. What can be the result? Your friend, who has known you only in social relations, is required to feel surprise at your performances, or to speak very qualifiedly of their merits. He is reduced to this alternative.If he admits himself to be surprised, it is equivalent to confessing that he has not had the capacity to discover your peculiar endowment. His self-esteem will oppose any such admission, and he disparages it accordingly. "He has always known that you had a certain talent;"-" but-it was surely a little too bold of you to undertake a book!" And this will be ought and said without any wilful desire to harm; simply from what seems necessary to self-respect and the maintenance of old position and the old social relations. And, do you not see, that, if you continue presumptuously to write books, it is possible-barely possible-that you will outgrow your circle? Every chatty, conceited, "talking potato" of it, is personally interested in preventing such a growth. The instincts of mediocrity are always on the watch and easily alarmed; and it perpetually toils to keep down any growth which is calculated to fling a shadow over itself. And this is all very naturalnot to be complained of, or quarrelled with. The safest way to avoid any of these perils, and much annoyance, is to keep your secret, and let your book find its way alone. Let the book win the reputation before you claim the authorship.
Of all this, something hereafter. My own humble experience in authorship, of some twenty-five years growth, will some day furnish ample materials for a volume of literary anecdote, which, I promise the reader, will not be found less valuable for its lessons, because so well calculated to provoke frequent merriment. I shall make the attempt, in more elaborate pages, to