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20. CHAPTER XX - "THE WAY WE LIVE NOW" AND "THE PRIME MINISTER"--CONCLUSION (continued)
While I was writing The Way We Live Now, I was called upon by the proprietors of the Graphic for a Christmas story. I feel, with regard to literature, somewhat as I suppose an upholsterer and undertaker feels when he is called upon to supply a funeral. He has to supply it, however distasteful it may be. It is his business, and he will starve if he neglects it. So have I felt that, when anything in the shape of a novel was required, I was bound to produce it. Nothing can be more distasteful to me than to have to give a relish of Christmas to what I write. I feel the humbug implied by the nature of the order. A Christmas story, in the proper sense, should be the ebullition of some mind anxious to instil others with a desire for Christmas religious thought, or Christmas festivities,--or, better still, with Christmas charity. Such was the case with Dickens when he wrote his two first Christmas stories. But since that the things written annually--all of which have been fixed to Christmas like children's toys to a Christmas tree--have had no real savour of Christmas about them. I had done two or three before. Alas! at this very moment I have one to write, which I have promised to supply within three weeks of this time,--the picture-makers always require a long interval,--as to which I have in vain been cudgelling my brain for the last month. I can't send away the order to another shop, but I do not know how I shall ever get the coffin made.
For the Graphic, in 1873, I wrote a little story about Australia. Christmas at the antipodes is of course midsummer, and I was not loth to describe the troubles to which my own son had been subjected, by the mingled accidents of heat and bad neighbours, on his station in the bush. So I wrote Harry Heathcote of Gangoil, and was well through my labour on that occasion. I only wish I may have no worse success in that which now hangs over my head.
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