[Finally,] in Florence in 1904, I hit upon the right way to do an Autobiography: [start] it at no particular time of your life; wander at your free will all over your life; talk only about the thing which [interests] you for the moment; drop it the moment its interest threatens to pale, and turn your talk upon the new and more interesting thing that [has intruded] itself into your mind meantime.
Also, make the narrative a combined Diary and Autobiography. In this way you have the vivid [things] of the present to make a contrast with memories of like things in the past, and these contrasts have a charm which is all their own. No talent is required to make a [combined] Diary and Autobiography interesting.
What a wee little part of a person’s life [are] his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, and every day, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts, [(which are but the mute articulation of his feelings,)] not those other things, are his history. His [acts] and his [words] are merely the [visible] thin crust of his world, with [page 221] its scattered snow summits and its vacant wastes of water—and they are so trifling a part of his [bulk!] a mere skin enveloping it. The mass of him is hidden—it and its volcanic fires that toss and boil, and never rest, night [nor] day. [These are his life], and they are not written, and cannot be written. Every day would make a whole book of eighty thousand words—three hundred and sixty-five books a year. Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man—the biography of the man himself cannot be written.
In this Autobiography I shall keep in mind the fact that I am speaking from the grave. I am [literally] speaking from the grave, because I shall be dead when the book issues from the press. [At any rate—to be precise—nineteen-twentieths of the book will not see print until after my death.]
I speak from the grave rather than with my living tongue, for a good reason: I can speak [thence] freely. When a man is writing a book [dealing with the privacies of his life—a book] which is to be read while he is still [alive—]he shrinks from speaking his whole [frank] mind; all his attempts to do it fail, he recognizes that [he] is trying to do a thing which is wholly impossible to a human being. The frankest and [freëst] [and privatest] product of the human mind and heart is a [love letter]; the [writer] gets his limitless freedom of statement and expression from his sense that no stranger is going to see what he is writing. Sometimes there is a breach of promise [case by and by;] and when he sees his letter in print it makes him cruelly uncomfortable, and he perceives that he never would have unbosomed himself to that large and honest degree if he had known that he was writing for the public. He cannot find anything in the letter that was not true, honest, and respect-worthy; but no matter, he would have been very much more reserved if he had known he was writing for print.
It has seemed to me that I could be as frank and free and unembarrassed as a [love letter] if I [knew] that what I [was] writing would be exposed to no eye until I was dead, and [unaware,] and [indifferent.]
My editors, heirs and assigns are hereby instructed to leave out of the first edition all characterizations of friends and enemies that might wound the feelings of either the persons characterized or their families and kinship. This book is not a revenge-record. When I build a fire under a person in it, I do not do it merely because of the enjoyment I get out of seeing him fry, but because he is worth the trouble. It is then a compliment, a distinction; let him give thanks and keep quiet. I do not fry the small, the commonplace, the unworthy.
From the first, second, third and fourth [editions] all [sound and sane] expressions of opinion must be left out. There may be a market for that kind of wares a century from now. There is no hurry. Wait and see.[page 222]
The editions should be issued twenty-five years apart. Many things that must be left out of the first will be proper for the second; many things that must be left out of both will be proper for the third; into the fourth—or at least the [fifth—]the whole Autobiography can go, unexpurgated.