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Peter's Mother

Mrs. Henry De La Pasture

  Produced by Kevin Handy, Dave Maddock, Josephine Paolucci and theOnline Distributed Proofreading Team.







  _And I left my youth behind For somebody else to find_.




  The author of "Peter's Mother" has been bidden of the publishers, whohave incurred the responsibility of presenting her to the Americanpublic, to write a preface to this edition of her novel. She does sowith the more diffidence because it has been impressed upon her, bymore than one wiseacre, that her novels treat of a life too narrow,an atmosphere too circumscribed, to be understood or appreciated byAmerican readers.

  No one can please everybody; I suppose that no one, except the old manin Aesop's Fable, ever tried to do so. But I venture to believe thatto some Americans, a sincere and truthful portrait of a typicalEnglishwoman of a certain class may prove attractive, as to us are thestudies of a "David Harum," or others whose characteristics interestbecause--and not in spite of--their strangeness and unfamiliarity. Wedo not recognise the type; but as those who do have acknowledged theaccuracy of the representation, we read, learn, and enjoy makingacquaintance with an individuality and surroundings foreign to our ownexperience.

  There are hundreds of Englishwomen living lives as isolated, asguarded from all practical knowledge of the outer world, as entirelycircumscribed as the life of Lady Mary Crewys; though they are not allunhappy. On the contrary, many diffuse content and kindness all aroundthem, and take it for granted that their own personal wishes are of noaccount.

  Indeed it would seem that some cease to be aware what their ownpersonal wishes are.

  With anxious eyes fixed on others--the husband, father, sons, whodominate them,--they live to please, to serve, to nurse, and toconsole; revered certainly as queens of their tiny kingdoms, but alsohelpless as prisoners.

  Calm, as fixed stars, they regard (perhaps sometimes a littlewistfully) the orbits of brighter planets, and the flashing ofoccasional meteors, within their ken; knowing that their own place isunchangeable--immutable.

  That the views of such women are often narrow, their prejudices many,their conventions tiresome, who shall deny? That their souls arepure and tender, their hearts open to kindness as are their handsto charity, nobody who knows the type will dispute. They lack manyadvantages which their more independent sisters (no less gifted withnoble and womanly qualities) enjoy, but they possess a peculiargentleness, which is all their own, whether it be adored or despised.

  When one of their number happens to be cleverer, larger minded, morerestless, and impatient, it may be, by nature than her sisters,tragedy may ensue. But not often. Habit and public opinion arestrong restrainers, stronger sometimes than even the most carefullyinculcated abstract principles.

  To turn to another phase of the story--there was a time during theBoer War when there was literally scarcely a woman in England who wasnot mourning the death of some man--be he son, brother, or husband,lover or friend,--and that time seems still very, very recent to someof us.

  The rights and wrongs of a war have nothing to do with the sympathyall civilised men and women extend to the soldiers on both sides whotake part in it.

  "_Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do or die_,"

  and whether they "do or die," the mingled suspense, pride, and anguishsuffered by their women-kind rouses the pity of the world; but most ofall, for the secret of sympathy is understanding, the pity of thosewho have suffered likewise. So that such escapades as Peter's in thestory, being not very uncommon at that dark period (and having itsfoundation in fact), may have touched hearts over here, which will beunmoved on the other side of the Atlantic. I cannot tell. I have knownvery few Americans, and though I have counted those few among myfriends, they have been rarely met.

  My only knowledge of America has been gleaned from my observation ofthese, and from reading. As it happens, the favourite books of mychildhood were, with few exceptions, American.

  Partly from association and partly because I count it the most trulydelightful story of its kind that ever was written, "Little Women" hasalways retained its early place in my affections. "Meg," "Jo," "Beth,"and "Amy" are my oldest and dearest friends; and when I think of them,it is hard to believe that America could be a land of strangers to meafter all. I confess to a weakness for the "Wide, Wide World" and asecret passion for "Queechy." I loved "Mr. Rutherford's Children," andwas always interested to hear "What Katy Did," Whilst the very thoughtof "Melbourne House" thrills me with recollections of the joy Iexperienced therein.

  But this is all by the way; and for the egotism which is, I fear me,displayed in this foreword, I can but plead, not only the difficultyof writing a preface at all, when one has no personal inclination thatway, but the nervousness which must beset a writer who is directlyaddressing not a tried and friendly public, but an unknown, and, itmay be, less easily pleased and more critical audience. It appears tome that it would be a simpler thing to write another book; and I wouldrather do so. I can only hope that some of the readers of "Peter'sMother," if she is so happy as to find favour in American eyes, wouldrather I did so too; in I which case I shall very joyfully try togratify their wishes, and my own.