I always think that the author who places his own photograph as an illustrated frontispiece to his own book must be either an exceedingly brave man or an exceedingly misguided one. At any rate, he runs a terrible risk, amounting almost to certain calamity, in regard to his literary admirers. I have never yet known an author–and this applies to authoresses as well–whose face, if you liked his work, was not an acute disappointment the moment you clapped eyes upon it. For example, I am a devoted admirer of “Amiel’s Journal”, but it is years since I have torn Amiel’s photograph from the covers of his book. I could not bear to think that such lovely, such poetical thoughts, should issue from a man who, in his portrait, anyway, looks like nothing so much as a melancholy Methodist minister, the most cheerful characteristic of whom is “Bright’s disease.”
In the days of my extreme youth I admired a well-known authoress–in public, be it understood, as is the way of youth. The world was given to understand that in her seductive heroines she really drew her own portrait. This same world lived long in blissful ignorance that what was stated to be a fact was only the very small portion of a half-truth. For years this famous lady refused to have her photo published. She even went so far as to tell the world so in every “interview” which journalists obtained from her–either regarding her views on “How best to obtain an extra sugar-allowance in war-time,” or concerning “Queen Mary’s noble example to English women to wear always the same-sort-of-looking hat.” This extreme modesty piqued the curiosity of her ten million readers enormously. The ten million, of which I was a member, imagined that she must be too beautiful and too elegant to possess brains, unless she were a positive miracle. We pictured her as tall and graceful, with a lovely willowy figure and an expression all sad tenderness when it wasn’t all sweet smiles.
Then one fatal day the famous authoress decided–too late, I’m afraid, by more than twenty years–to show her face to the ten million worshippers who demanded so greatly to see it. The irrevocable step being taken, disillusion jumped to our eyes, as the French say, and nearly blinded us. Instead of the goddess we had anticipated, all we saw was, gazing at us out of the pages of an illustrated newspaper, an over-plump, middle-aged “party” with no figure and a fuzzy fringe, who stood smiling in an open French window, and herself completely filling it! The shock to our worship was so intense that it made most of us think several times before spending 7s. on her new love story, were it ever so romantic. And so that was the net result of that!
Wiser far is the other well-known authoress, who apparently had her last photograph taken somewhere back in the early nineties, and still sends it forth to the press as her “latest portrait study,” which, perhaps, if she be as wise as she is witty, it will for ever be.
No, I think that authors who insist upon their own photographs appearing in their own books are either very foolish or puffed out with pompous pride. Nobody really wants to look at them a second time; or, even if they do, nine times out of ten those who stay to look remain to wish they hadn’t. I have never yet known an author’s face which compared in charm and interest with the books he writes. Taking literature as a professional example, it cannot truthfully be said that beauty often follows brains. In the case of authors, as in so many other cases, to leave everything to the imagination is by far the better policy in the long run. But there is this consolation, anyway–we are what we are, after all, and our faces are very often libels on our “souls.”