Sylvia of the Letters

Author: Jerome K. Jerome

The Preface

The Doctor never did believe this story, but claims for it that, to a great extent, it has altered his whole outlook on life.

"Of course, what actually happened—what took place under my own nose," continued the Doctor, "I do not dispute. And then there is the case of Mrs. Marigold. That was unfortunate, I admit, and still is, especially for Marigold. But, standing by itself, it proves nothing. These fluffy, giggling women—as often as not it is a mere shell that they shed with their first youth—one never knows what is underneath. With regard to the others, the whole thing rests upon a simple scientific basis. The idea was ’in the air,’ as we say—a passing brain-wave. And when it had worked itself out there was an end of it. As for all this Jack-and-the-Beanstalk tomfoolery—"

There came from the darkening uplands the sound of a lost soul. It rose and fell and died away.

"Blowing stones," explained the Doctor, stopping to refill his pipe. "One finds them in these parts. Hollowed out during the glacial period. Always just about twilight that one hears it. Rush of air caused by sudden sinking of the temperature. That’s how all these sort of ideas get started."

The Doctor, having lit his pipe, resumed his stride.

"I don’t say," continued the Doctor, "that it would have happened without her coming. Undoubtedly it was she who supplied the necessary psychic conditions. There was that about her—a sort of atmosphere. That quaint archaic French of hers—King Arthur and the round table and Merlin; it seemed to recreate it all. An artful minx, that is the only explanation. But while she was looking at you, out of that curious aloofness of hers—"

The Doctor left the sentence uncompleted.

"As for old Littlecherry," the Doctor began again quite suddenly, "that’s his speciality—folklore, occultism, all that flummery. If you knocked at his door with the original Sleeping Beauty on your arm he’d only fuss round her with cushions and hope that she’d had a good night. Found a seed once—chipped it out of an old fossil, and grew it in a pot in his study. About the most dilapidated weed you ever saw. Talked about it as if he had re-discovered the Elixir of Life. Even if he didn’t say anything in actually so many words, there was the way he went about. That of itself was enough to have started the whole thing, to say nothing of that loony old Irish housekeeper of his, with her head stuffed full of elves and banshees and the Lord knows what."

Again the Doctor lapsed into silence. One by one the lights of the village peeped upward out of the depths. A long, low line of light, creeping like some luminous dragon across the horizon, showed the track of the Great Western express moving stealthily towards Swindon.

"It was altogether out of the common," continued the Doctor, "quite out of the common, the whole thing. But if you are going to accept old Littlecherry’s explanation of it—"

The Doctor struck his foot against a long grey stone, half hidden in the grass, and only just saved himself from falling.

"Remains of some old cromlech," explained the Doctor. "Somewhere about here, if we were to dig down, we should find a withered bundle of bones crouching over the dust of a prehistoric luncheon-basket. Interesting neighbourhood!"

The descent was rough. The Doctor did not talk again until we had reached the outskirts of the village.

"I wonder what’s become of them?" mused the Doctor. "A rum go, the whole thing. I should like to have got to the bottom of it."

We had reached the Doctor’s gate. The Doctor pushed it open and passed in. He seemed to have forgotten me.

"A taking little minx," I heard him muttering to himself as he fumbled with the door. "And no doubt meant well. But as for that cock-and-bull story—"

I pieced it together from the utterly divergent versions furnished me by the Professor and the Doctor, assisted, so far as later incidents are concerned, by knowledge common to the village.


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Chicago: Jerome K. Jerome, "The Preface," Sylvia of the Letters, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Evans, Sebastian in Sylvia of the Letters Original Sources, accessed June 19, 2024,

MLA: Jerome, Jerome K. "The Preface." Sylvia of the Letters, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Evans, Sebastian, in Sylvia of the Letters, Original Sources. 19 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: Jerome, JK, 'The Preface' in Sylvia of the Letters, ed. and trans. . cited in , Sylvia of the Letters. Original Sources, retrieved 19 June 2024, from