I WROTE these stories at long intervals, and most of them were read to patient friends, usually at the season of Christmas. One of these friends [James McBryde] offered to illustrate them, and it was agreed that, if he would do that, I would consider the question of publishing them. Four pictures he completed, which will be found in this volume, and then, very quickly and unexpectedly, he was taken away. This is the reason why the greater part of the stories are not provided with illustrations. Those who knew the artist will understand how much I wished to give a permanent form even to a fragment of his work; others will appreciate the fact that here a remembrance is made of one in whom many friendships centred. The stories themselves do not make any very exalted claim. If any of them succeed in causing their readers to feel pleasantly uncomfortable when walking along a solitary road at nightfall, or sitting over a dying Ere in the small hours, my purpose in writing them will have been attained.
If anyone is curious about my local settings, let it be recorded that St Bertrand de Comminges and Viborg are real places: that in ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You’ I had Felixstowe in mind. As for the fragments of ostensible erudition which are scattered about my pages, hardly anything in them is not pure invention; there never was, naturally, any such book as that which I quote in ‘The Treasure of Abbot Thomas’. ‘Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book’ was written in 1894 and printed soon after in the National Review, ‘Lost Hearts’ appeared in the Pall Mall Magazine; of the next five stories, most of which were read to friends at Christmas-time at King’s College, Cambridge, I only recollect that I wrote ‘Number 13’ in 1899, while ‘The Treasure of Abbot Thomas’ was composed in the summer of 1904.
M. R. James
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10