Non-Fictional Prose

by Charles G.D. Roberts

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley and Laurel Boone


Prefatory Note *


The present collection of stories dealing with creatures of the wilderness differs from its companion volumes, "The Kindred of the Wild" and "The Watchers of the Trails," in one important particular. It contains certain studies and depictions of a sphere of wild life which presents peculiar difficulties to the observer, viz.: the life of the dwellers in the deep sea. Our investigation of these remote kindreds is at best spasmodic, and conducted always at the extreme of disadvantage; and the knowledge which we may gain from such investigation must always remain in a measure fragmentary. It is not easy for any observer to be intimate with a sawfish; and the most ardent naturalist’s acquaintance with an orca, or "killer" whale, must be essentially a distant one, if he would hope to put his observations upon record. Needless to say, my own knowledge of the orca, the shark, the narwhal, or the colossal cuttlefish of the ocean depths, is not of the same kind as my knowledge of the bear, the moose, the eagle, and others of the furtive folk of our New Brunswick wilderness. When I write of these latter I build my stories upon a foundation of personal, intimate, sympathetic observation, the result of a boyhood passed in the backwoods, and of almost yearly visits, ever since my boyhood, to the wild forest regions of my native province. But when I write of the kindreds of the deep sea, I am relying upon the collated results of the observations of others. I have spared no pains to make these stories accord, as far as the facts of natural history are concerned, with the latest scientific information. But I have made no vain attempt at interpretation of the lives of creatures so remote from my personal knowledge; and for such tales as "A Duel in the Deep," "The Terror of the Sea Caves," or "The Prowlers," my utmost hope is that they may prove entertaining, without being open to any charge of misrepresenting facts. On the other hand, in certain of the stories dealing with the results of my own observation and experience, I have dared to hope that I might be contributing something of value to the final disputed question of animal psychology. For such stories, which offer in the form of fiction what my observations have compelled me to regard as fact, I have presented my case already, in the prefaces to "The Watchers of the Trials" and "Red Fox." To those prefaces I would add nothing here; and from the conclusions therein stated I have nothing to retract. I would merely take this occasion to reaffirm with confidence the belief, which I find shared by practically all observers whose lives are passed in the closest relationship with animals,—by such vitally interested observers, for instance, as keepers, trainers, hunters, and trappers,—that the actions of animals are governed not only by instinct, but also, in varying degree, by processes essentially akin to those of human reason.


"Prefatory Note," The Haunters of the Silences (Boston: Page, 1907), v-vii [back]