Conrad First The Joseph Conrad Periodical Archive
Extract (Preface to "The Nigger of the 'Narcissus'")

Preface to "The Nigger of The Narcissus"

in Waterloo Evening Courier (Waterloo, IA, USA) (Aug 24, 1928): (Page imagery not yet available)

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p.6. Extract appears within book review:

"In all English literature there is no more vivid and veracious contrast of the methods of the scientist with the methods of the artist than the one drawn by Joseph Conrad in the preface to 'The Nigger of the Narcissus.'

'Impressed by the aspect of the world,' he says, 'the thinker plunges into ideas, the scientist into facts, whence, presently emerging, they speak authoritatively to our common-sense, to our intelligence, to our desire of peace or to our desire of unrest; not seldom to our prejudices, sometimes to our fears, often to our egotism--but always to our credulity. And their words are heard with reverence, for their concern is with weighty matters: with the cultivation of our minds and the proper care of our bodies; with the attainment of our ambitions: with the perfection of the means and the glorification of our precious aims.'

But it is--as Conrad sees it--otherwise with the artist.

'Confronted by the same enigmatical spectacle,' he goes on to say, 'the artist descends within himself, and in that lonely region of stress and strife, if he be deserving and fortunate, he finds the terms of his appeal.

'His appeal is made to our less obvious capacities, to that part of our nature which, because of the warlike conditions of existence, is necessarily kept out of sight within the more resisting and hard qualities.

'His appeal is less loud, more profound, less distinct, more stirring--and sooner forgotten. Yet its effect endures forever. The changing wisdom of successive generations discards ideas, questions facts, demolishes theories. But the artist appeals to that part of our being which is not dependent on wisdom: to that in us which is a gift and not an acquisition, and, therefore, more permanently enduring.

'He speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feelings of fellowship with all creation--and to the subtle, but invincible, conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts, to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity--the dead to the living and the living to the unborn.'"