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The Book of Essays Dedicatory


The Book of Essays Dedicatory

I have been bothered about this book this three months. I have written
scarcely anything since Llewellyn asked me for it, for when he asked me
I had really nothing on hand. I had just published every line I had ever
written, at my own expense, with Prigsbys. Yet three months should
suffice for one of Llewellyn's books, which consist chiefly of decorous
fly-leaves and a dedication or so, and margins. Of course you know
Llewellyn's books--the most delightful things in the market: the
sweetest covers, with little gilt apples and things carelessly
distributed over luminous grey, and bright red initials, and all these
delightful fopperies. But it was the very slightness of these bibelots
that disorganised me. And perhaps, also, the fact that no one has ever
asked me for a book before.

I had no trouble with the title though--"Lichens." I have wondered the
thing was never used before. Lichens, variegated, beautiful, though on
the most arid foundations, half fungoid, half vernal--the very name for
a booklet of modern verse. And that, of course, decided the key of the
cover and disposed of three or four pages. A fly-leaf, a leaf with
"Lichens" printed fair and beautiful a little to the left of the centre,
then a title-page--"Lichens. By H.G. Wells. London: MDCCCXCV. Stephen
Llewellyn." Then a restful blank page, and then--the Dedication. It was
the dedication stopped me. The title-page, it is true, had some points
of difficulty. Should the Christian name be printed in full or not, for
instance; but it had none of the fatal fascination of the dedicatory
page. I had, so to speak, to look abroad among the ranks of men, and
make one of those fretful forgotten millions--immortal. It seemed a
congenial task.

I went to work forthwith.

It was only this morning that I realised the magnitude of my
accumulations. Ever since then--it was three months ago--I have been
elaborating this Dedication. I turned the pile over, idly at first.
Presently I became interested in tracing my varying moods, as they had
found a record in the heap.

This struck me--

[Illustration: A Handwritten dedication, "To my Dearest Friend"
followed by three successive names, two crossed out, then the whole
dedication struck out]

Then again, a little essay in gratitude came to hand--

Whose Admirable Lectures on
First turned my Attention to

There was a tinge of pleasantry in the latter that pleased me very
greatly when I wrote it, and I find immediately overlying it another
essay in the same line--

To the Latter-day Reviewer,
These Pearls.

For some days I was smitten with the idea of dedicating my little
booklet to one of my numerous personal antagonists, and conveying some
subtly devised insult with an air of magnanimity. I thought, for
instance, of Blizzard--

The most distinguished, if not the greatest, of contemporary

I think it was "X.L.'s" book, _Aut Diabolus aut Nihil_, that set me upon
another line. There is, after all, your reader to consider in these
matters, your average middle-class person to impress in some way. They
say the creature is a snob, and absolutely devoid of any tinge of
humour, and I must confess that I more than half believe it. At anyrate,
it was that persuasion inspired--

To the Countess of X.,
In Memory of Many Happy Days.

I know no Countess of X., as a matter of fact, but if the public is such
an ass as to think better of my work for the suspicion, I do not care
how soon I incur it. And this again is a pretty utilisation of the waste
desert of politics--

MY DEAR SALISBURY,--Pray accept this unworthy tribute of
my affectionate esteem.

There were heaps of others. And looking at those heaps it suddenly came
sharp and vivid before my mind that there--there was the book I needed,
already written! A blank page, a dedication, a blank page, a dedication,
and so on. I saw no reason to change the title. It only remained to
select the things, and the book was done. I set to work at once, and in
a very little while my bibelot was selected. There were dedications
fulsome and fluid, dedications acrid and uncharitable, dedications in
verse and dedications in the dead languages: all sorts and conditions of
dedications, even the simple "To J.H. Gabbles"--so suggestive of the
modest white stones of the village churchyard. Altogether I picked out
one hundred and three dedications. At last only one thing remained to
complete the book. And that was--the Dedication. You will scarcely
credit it, but that worries me still....

I am almost inclined to think that Dedications are going out of