[from Hall Caine My Story]
WHEN I began to write this book I had no other intention than that of revising and perhaps enlarging a little volume of recollections of Rossetti which I had published immediately after the poet's death; but I had not gone far before I realised that I was doing two things which I had not contemplated-I was producing an entirely new book that owed little or nothing to the earlier effort, and I was presenting a portrait of my friend that could only be of value to the student of life in relation to its point of view.
That point of view, when I came to consider it, was, I thought, fresh, and such as might be found to be interesting. A young man of five-and- twenty, brought up in the country, untutored and unknown, with nothing to recommend him but some knowledge and an immense love of books, had by certain strange revolutions of the wheel of chance become the intimate friend and for a while the companion and housemate of a great and illustrious poet-painter, who had been born in a very hot-bed of literature and art, and was then living out in the closest seclusion the last days of a life that was saddened by many unhappy experiences, and quite unbrightened by his world-wide fame. Such was the basis of my relation with Rossetti, and sitting down now, at more than twice the age to which I had attained when the poet and I lived together, to paint in loving memory a picture of my friend as he had pre- sented himself to me, I soon became aware that, however unwittingly, I was a principal character in my own drama and was hardly doing more than making a record of my first great literary friendship.
Therefore the consciousness, from which I could not escape, that little as I had intended to produce an autobiography, I was at all events writing an account of my beginning in literature, led me at length to look frankly at my task as such, with the result that the book as now published, contains much beside my recollections of Rossetti, though these must needs bulk largely in any story of my first twenty-five years, so great was my debt to the friend who did so much for me in those days, and so lasting the influence which his friendship, if not his mind or his art, has since exercised upon me.
Knowing well, however, that there is much in the life of nearly every man of letters, and in my own life in particular, that can be of little interest to the public, I made no attempt whatever to tell a detailed story of my early days, but confined my autobiographical fragment to an account of my literary relations, sometimes very intimate, sometimes very slight, always very important to me, with John Ruskin, R. D. Blackmore, Wilkie Collins, Robert Buchanan, T. E. Brown, Henry Irving, Tennyson and Gladstone, as well as the great and unhappy poet whose sad comradeship during his last dark days gave me an excuse for the majority of these pages.
Nevertheless in eliminating my personal narrative except so far as it concerned these large and lasting figures, I thought I might be pardoned if I began my book with a sketch of my childhood and youth in the Isle of Man, partly for the sake of the picture it must needs present of a curiously self-centred little community that was strangely out of touch and harmony with the rest of our kingdom as recently as half a century ago, and partly perhaps for such interest as it might possibly possess for some of the readers of the novels with which my name is associated.
Aside, however, from this section of its contents, the volume I now offer to the public will, I trust, be found to be not so much an autobiography of my first twenty-five years as my grateful and affectionate story of those first friendships which have been the most precious rewards of my literary life, and the best things I have got for my books.