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By Paul Elmer More
“ There is nothing that provokes and sharpens wit
like malice." — SAMUEL BUTLER, Wit and Folly.
Preface The essays in this volume were written some time ago, during the years when I was editor of the Nation, and were all published in that journal, with the exception of the one on Lady Mary : Wortley Montagu which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. They were occasional in their origin, suggested by the publication of various books, and composed with no design of forming a connected series. The title, therefore, under which they are now gathered together should not mislead the reader into looking for what in the nature of the case he cannot find. There has been no plan to write a history of “wit,” no attempt to treat the subject with philosophic unity or erudite completeness. The essays do indeed for the most part deal with the “wits,” technically so called, who clustered about the court of Queen Anne and went into opposition on the coming of George the First, and so far the title of the book may be justified; but some of the greater stars of the galaxy are missing, and others are included who had their rising at an earlier or a later date. Of certain of the names I fear the critical reader may even be tempted to exclaim: Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galère ? My galley, in fact, is only an excursion boat on the waters of jour
nalism, the company is mixed; if the brief trip on such a bark and with such comrades prove agreeable, I shall be content.
Should any too curious student recall the memory of these essays as they came out originally in the Nation, he will note that some of them are considerably enlarged in their present state, and may surmise that the new material has been prepared specially for this reprinting in book form. As a matter of fact the procedure was quite the contrary: it was my custom to compose with free hand and then to cut down to the length permitted by the exigencies of space. The work of elimination sometimes gave me pain, but since I was acting as both contributor and editor, the pangs of the one were alleviated by the remorseless joy of the other. It was as if I wrote with pen in one hand and blue pencil in the other. The satisfaction, if so it may be called, is one of the few I have to regret since I exchanged the editorial chair for the much easier seat in my library.
These are secrets of the prison house, of little moment to the outside world; if I divulge them, it is not for vanity, but in the hope that some of the enemies I made as editor among over-teeming contributors, hearing that I could be stern to the offspring of my own genius as well as to theirs, may peradventure take me back into their good graces. Alas, if only I could appease other resentments by telling how often the hateful review