This is the complete text of MacGregor’s preface to the first edition of Acts of the Servant, and while it will be familiar to many readers, I believe it worthy of additional study and comparison with the alternative preface included in the forthcoming Anniversary Edition. In particular, I draw attention to those passages where MacGregor refers to the protracted delay in publication owing to the extensive revisions his publisher forced upon him and his regrets at not being able to write as he believed he ought. The sense of words unsaid is palpable in these passages.
Preface to the first edition
I have kept my reader in long suspense since this work was first announced three years past in the pages of ‘lays of Brigadoon’. Much has occurred in those years, but rest assured, all has been done to present as pleasing a work as my penmanship allows.
Despite, or in truth in consequence of, those three years, much is, and I trust my publishers will allow me this, not as I would wish it; however, I am obliged to write within my times and within the expectations of my readership, while not, I trust, stinting on novelty and surprise. Thus, Acts of the Servant, as it is presented here, is not wholly the work I envisaged all those years ago, yet must stand for that work until such times when this writer, or perhaps any writer, may express the human heart as it truly is and not as others would have it be.
But speak of the work, I hear you pray. In answer, let me state that Acts of the Servant is from its opening words a work of fancy, yet a work in which much is true and but few things altered from the fact. The principal fancy must be accounted that my fictional Anglia is under the sovereignty of good, kind, dutiful King Edmund III, son of Edgar, and his Royal Seat is not Lunden but that more ancient citadel, Winchester whence, in my fancy, the monarchy returned following the Glorious Deliverance of 1648.
Naturally, it should be noted that good, kind, dutiful King Edmund shares those qualities but no others with our dear sovereign, King Charles VII, and nor should the reader draw parallel between any other named character in this narrative and any person of living flesh or recent memory. In this respect, my humble work is fiction and nothing more.
Furthermore, in our present time, Tsar Nicholas shows no desire for war in the Baltic and there, as of late in the Black Sea, peace reigns between nations. Nor is the once mighty Hanseatic League contemplating, so far as we are aware, one last terrible throw of the dice to avert its slow decline, and thus the wider events I have portrayed in this novel and intend to portray in its successors must also, I trust, remain fictions.
And yet, I shall draw the line here and say the rest is true to the world the writer shares with his reader. I have attempted, to the best my humble ability allows, to be true to human nature and human destiny and equally portray desire, charity, kindness, fellowship and their dark companions, enmity, misanthropy, cruelty, and that curious human predisposition to think the worst of those who we believe to be different from ourselves.
Unlike the greater number of my other fictions, Acts of the Servant is set in recent times and not in the strange and distant past. Our age is, perhaps uniquely so, an age of great change, where established ways no longer fit their purpose, if indeed such purpose is still required and where son may not expect to follow in his father’s footsteps for the father’s footsteps were imprinted on a very different earth from that which lies beneath the feet of his son.
Hesiod, writing in Works and Days, claimed man had lived through five ages: a Golden Age, a Silver Age, and a Bronze Age, followed by an Age of Heroes when lived Ajax, Achilles, and Odysseus, and ending in his own time with an Iron Age “when men never rest from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them.”
Hesiod’s scheme had no equal, until, within the lifetime of your author, Christian Thomsen, a Danish antiquarian, formulated a new hierarchy of ages based, not on Hesiod’s a priori reasoning, but upon the progression in man’s expertise and knowledge observed in the workmanship of the primitive tools and implements with which ancient man furnished and improved his circumstance. These tools, Thomsen saw, varied in nature and in form and by close study of the context in which they were found and by comparison one with another, he concluded that man has lived through three ages, each of which he named according to the material that chiefly furnished his tools, naming them thus: stone, bronze, and finally, iron.
By either reckoning, our age is the age of iron and our only dilemma is whether to follow Hesiod and believe we have fallen, or Thomsen and believe we have risen from a more primitive past. Yet neither scheme quite answers our present circumstance, for both Hesiod and Thomsen date the beginnings of the Iron Age to the millennium before Christ and, plain as the page before you, our world no more resembles the world of the Bible than a chariot does a railroad locomotive. For this reason, I plead we must find a new name for our modern times, and claim, taking my cue from Hesiod, that man now dwells in an Iron Race.
In our time, iron girdles our land like the laces on a matron’s corset. Iron ploughshares rut and scour our fields, iron railroads quarter our land, telegraph wires cobweb our skies and iron ships plough our oceans and on our battlefields, iron cannon and iron rifle kill more in one day than Sparta’s army in a whole year of war. As the poet, Philip Lemming wrote; “In our passion for this black gold, The iron foundry ne’er grows cold, But pours and pours and pours again, Into the ever-lasting mould.”
Such is our lust for iron that we forget those among us for whom iron’s is a deadly embrace. Once, to have the gift of clearsight was thought more precious than gold, and kings and emperors sought the guidance of spaers, sibyls and starets at every turn. Those times are gone and few indeed maintain the old customs. And now, as iron threads its way to every corner of our land, those once lauded men and women are threatened to their very lives by iron’s malignant force. I humbly ask that as we garb ourselves in this modern age we do not squeeze the life from that which is far more ancient and more precious still. Let us leave a space in our hearts and in our land for wonder and for magick.
Tamburlaine Bryce MacGregor, Arbinger Abbey, Tweeddale, June 14th 1865