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Sometimes I think I know what John O'Hara meant when he called a late collection of stories The Horse Knows the Way. On the one hand, the title affably gestures towards a familiar holiday song; on the other hand—the hand I had in mind—it has a fatigued but still plucky cynicism, the warhorse or firehorse knowing where to go without being told.
This is the fifth preface that I have had the pleasure of writing, since I have edited the fifth through the ninth editions, work going back upwards of eighteen years. As I think about it, I realize that it has been something to do almost every day for eighteen years. I sometimes find myself reading with three or four minds: that of an ordinary reader passing the time; that of a professional writer keeping an eye on the competition; that of a teacher on the lookout for ways to bring students and literature together; and—in some ways underlying all the others, present when all the others are turned off—that of a handbook editor with hundreds of terms and problems always somewhere in my consciousness.
I have begun to suspect that there is no boundary between handbook work and creative writing. I am as surprised as anyone else by this development, since I accepted the caricature of the academic editor as a drudge. But, frankly, I have not suffered very much drudgery, especially with some crackerjack computer equipment to help with chores that once took ten times the work they take now. And maybe the blessed impulse to put things in order animates the editor as well as the poet.
Maybe a new area of study is opening up: reference book editing as creative writing. Some of my favorite referenceworks are also monuments of subjective eloquence the equal of many poems (I have dictionaries edited by Samuel Johnson and H. W. Fowler in mind). And many editors of distinction—Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, W B. Yeats, William Rose Benet, W H. Auden, Stanley Kunitz, Margaret Drabble, Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, R. S. Gwynn—have been creative writers as well.
One further unforeseen benefit of this job is the involvement of family. My wife is an enthusiastic reader and lively thinker; often, when I bring a book home for further study, she will pick it up and finish it before I do. In earlier editions I have mentioned my son Will, who has been helping since he was eleven; now that he is almost thirty, he is making suggestions which I applaud and accept. My older daughter, Sally, who has also been an editorial assistant since her preteen years, has helped all along, and for this edition I am proud to say that she has also furnished the artwork for the cover design. For many questions of language and literature, I can call on my brother, William E Hardin. My younger daughter, Caroline, will probably follow the rest of us in this most engaging occupation.
To all of them I express abiding gratitude. I am happy once again to record an incalculable debt to Carrie Brandon of Prentice-Hall, who has never flagged in her support. Janet Stone and Matt Smith of Victory Productions have helped with many details. Other debts of many sorts are owed to Sylvia Gamboa, Joseph Gamboa, Jon Ham, Jennifer Lockard Connerley, the late James K. Robinson, Joseph M. Flora, and Kathryn Wymer.