Introduction to the Autobiography
there is no reason now for withholding the history of my early years, nothing to prevent my stating every fact about myself.
I am now declining in vitality.
My hard life in Africa, many fevers, many privations, much physical and mental suffering, bring me close to the period of infirmities.
My prospects now cannot be blasted by gibes, nor advancement thwarted by prejudice.
I stand in no man's way. Therefore, without fear of consequences, or danger to my pride and reserve, I can lay bare all circumstances which have attended me from the dawn of consciousness to this present period of indifference.
I may tell how I came into existence, and how that existence was moulded by contact with others; how my nature developed under varying influences, and what, after life's severe tests, is the final outcome of it. I may tell how, from the soft, tender atom in the cradle, I became a football to Chance, till I grew in hardihood, and learned how to repel kicks; how I was taught to observe the moods and humours of that large mass of human beings who flitted by me.
As I have been in the habit of confining myself to myself, my reserve has been repugnant to gossip in every shape or form, and I have ever been the least likely person to hear anything evil of others, because, when the weakness or eccentricity of a casual acquaintance happened to be a topic, I have made it a principle to modify, if I could not change it. In this book I am not translating from a diary, nor is it the harvest of a journal, but it consists of backward glances at my own life, as memory unrolls the past to me. My inclination, as a young man, was always to find congenial souls to whom I could attach myself in friendship, not cling to for support, friends on whom I could thoroughly rely, and to whom I could trustfully turn for sympathy, and the exchange of thoughts.
But, unfortunately, those to whom in my trustful age I ventured to consign the secret hopes and interests of my heart, invariably betrayed me. In some bitter moods I have thought that the sweetest parts of the Bible
are wholly inapplicable to actual humanity, for no power, it appeared to me, could ever transform grown — up human beings so as to be worthy of heavenly blessings.
“Little children, love one another,” says divine St. John.
Ah! yes, while we are children, we are capable of loving; our love is as that of Angels, and we are not far below them in purity, despite our trivial errors and fantasies; for however we err, we still can love.
But when I emerged from childhood, and learned by experience that there was no love for me, born, so to say, fatherless, spurned and disowned by my mother, beaten almost to death by my teacher and guardian, fed on the bread of bitterness, how was I to believe in Love?
I was met by Hate in all its degrees, and not I alone.
Look into the halls of legislation, of religious communities, of justice; look into the Press, any market-place, meeting-house, or walk of life, and answer the question, as to your own soul, “Where shall I find love?”
See what a change forty years have wrought in me. When a child, I loved him who so much as smiled at me; the partner of my little bed, my play-fellow, the stranger boy who visited me; nay, as a flower attracts the bee, it only needed the glance of a human face, to begin regarding it with love.
Mere increase of years has changed all that.
Never can I recall that state of innocence, any more than I can rekindle the celestial spark, for it was extinguished with the expansion of intellect and by my experience of mankind.
While my heart, it may be, is as tender as ever to the right person, it is subject to my intellect, which has become so fastidious and nice in its choice, that only one in a million is pronounced worthy of it.
No doubt there will be much self-betrayal in these pages, and he who can read between the lines, as a physiognomist would read character, will not find it difficult to read me. But then, this is the purpose of an Autobiography, and all will agree that it must be much more authentic than any record made of me by another man. Indeed, I wish to appear without disguise, as regards manners and opinions, habits and characteristics.
If a nation can be said to be happy which has no history, that man is also happy whose uneventful life has not brought him into prominence, and who has nothing to record but the passing of years between the cradle and the grave.
But I was not sent into the world to be happy, nor to search for happiness.
I was sent for a special work.
Now, from innocent boyhood and trustful youth, I have advanced to some height whence I can look down, pityingly; as a father I can look down upon that young man, Myself, with a chastened pride; he has done well, he might have done better, but his life has been a fulfilment, since he has finished the work he was sent to do.