This book, which costs a mere £1.99, a great example of how to do things right.
David Stuart Davies, whoever this good chap may be, provides a short, insightful foreword explaining how the short story began its popularity in the 19th century (reduced costs from new printing techniques enabled publishers to start printing periodicals for a mass audience), and extols the quality of the early short story writers ("they are working on a miniature and therefore the brushstrokes have to be all the more carefully applied). Davies also provides short introductions to each author, along with an inkling of what it is to come in his selected story, and importantly he never gives the game away and doesn't veer off into the boring, professorial comparisons. He lets the stories shine.
It's a bit odd, but I'd give this book 5/5 for form, etc, even though none of the stories quite make it up to this rating. My favourite stories from the collection were all from the first half of the book. I was particularly surprised by the richness of Dickens' language along with the work of Arthur Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins, Chekov, and Robert Louis Stevenson, and look forward to reading more of their works.
The Black Veil
The Terribly Strange Bed
The Bottle Imp
Robert Louis Stevenson
The Red-Headed League
Arthur Conan Doyle
The Stolen Bacilus
Selected quotes and nice bits of language:
The Black Veil - Charles Dickens
"One winter's evening, towards the close of the year 1800, or within a year or two of that time, a young medical practitioner, recently established in business, was seated by a cheerful fire in his little parlour, listening to the wind which was beating the rain in pattering drops against the window, or rumbling dismally in the chimney. The night was wet and cold; he had been walking through mud and water the whole day, and was now comfortably reposing in his dressing-gown and slippers, more than half asleep and less than half awake, revolving a thousand matters in his wandering imagination."
"...stimulate him to fresh exertions"
The Terribly Strange Bed - Wilkie Collins
"The game was Rouge et Noir. I had played at it in every city in Europe, without, however, the care or the wish to study the Theory of Chances--that philosopher's stone of all gamblers! And a gambler, in the strict sense of the word, I had never been. I was heart-whole from the corroding passion for play. My gaming was a mere idle amusement. I never resorted to it by necessity, because I never knew what it was to want money. I never practised it so incessantly as to lose more than I could afford, or to gain more than I could coolly pocket without being thrown off my balance by my good luck. In short, I had hitherto frequented gambling-tables -- just as I frequented ball-rooms and opera-houses -- because they amused me, and because I had nothing better to do with my leisure hours."
The Red-Headed League - Arthur Conan Doyle
"As a rule, when I have heard some slight indication of the course of events, I am able to guide myself by the thousands of other similar cases which occur to my memory. In the present instance, I am forced to admit that the facts, are, to the best of my belief, unique."
omne ignotum pro magnificum - the unknown is always thought to be magnificent.
"And now, doctor, we've done our work, so it's time we had some play. A sandwich, a cup of coffee, and then off to violin land, where all is sweetness and delicacy and there are no red-headed clients to vex us with their conundrums."
"You reasoned it out beautifully," I exclaimed in unfeigned admiration. "It is so long a chain, and yet every link rings true."
"It saved me from ennui," he answered, yawning. "Alas! I already feel it closing in upon me. My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence. These little problems help me to do so."