Paul Clifford/Dedicatory Epistle

DEDICATORY EPISTLE,


TO


* * * ** * * * * *, Esq.




Some years ago, my dear friend, when you and I had more of the poetry of life at our hearts than, I fear, is left to either of us now, I inscribed with your name a certain slender volume of Poems, printed but not published. Of the hundred copies of those boyish indiscretions which, full of all unimaginable errors of type and press, owed their origin to a French printer, I have not to this day given away more than two or three- and-twenty. I dedicated to you then a book only to be circulated among friends, on the tacit understanding that they were to be alike willing to forgive and eager to commend. I dedicate to you now a book which, the moment it passes from me, goes among readers of whom even the kindly are too luke-warm to praise, the hostile are pre-resolved to censure, and every individual, with a cruel justice, holds it a right to expect merit in an author upon all points, and to extend him indulgence upon none. This is the natural and established bond of publication; and of course, like all who publish, I am prepared for its conditions. But ere I again appear before an audience not the less critical—scarcely the less unfamiliar, for my having, into her performances, braved its opinion, let me linger a few minutes behind the scenes, and encourage myself with a friendly conference with you. It gives me pain, my dear * * * * * *, to think that I may not grace my pages with your name; for I well know, that when after-years shall open the fitting opportunity to your talents, that name will not be lightly held wherever honesty and truth—a capacity to devise what is good, and a courage to execute it, are considered qualities worthy of esteem. But in your present pursuits it can scarcely serve you to be praised by a novelist, and named in the dedication to a novel; and your well-wishers would not be pleased to find you ostentatiously exhibiting a sanction to a book, which they would fain hope you may never obtain the leisure to read.

Four years have passed since I dedicated to you the Poems I refer to—they have not brought to either of us an inconsiderable change. We are no longer the rovers of the world, setting sail at our caprice, and finding enterprise at our will. We feel, though with a silent conviction, that life has roads harsher and more barren than we then imagined; and we look on the ways through which we pass, not with the eager or the wandering glance of the tourist, of pleasure, but with the saturnine and wary eye of the hacknied trafficker of business. You are settled down to the labours—honourable, indeed, but somewhat sterile—of the bar; and I, "a mere spectator of other men's fortunes and adventures,"[1] am drawing from the bustle of the living world such quiet observation as, after it has lain a little while within my own mind, you perceive re-produced in the pages of certain idle and very indifferent novels. I cling, however, not the less fondly to my old faith, that experience is the only investment which never fails to repay us tenfold what it cost; and that we cannot find better and surer guides through those mazes of life, which we have not only to pass but to retrace, than the error, or the prejudice, or the regret which, with every interval, we leave behind us, as landmarks, on our way.

When you receive these three volumes, printed, and labelled, and boarded, in all the uncut coxcombry of the very last new novel, I know exactly the half frown, half smile, with which you will greet them, and the friendly petulance with which you will pish! and think what a pity it is that "—— should still write nothing else but a novel."—Is it, indeed, a pity, my dear friend? Are you sure that in writing something else I should write something better? For my part, I often ask myself that question; and, if I could answer it satisfactorily, this work would never have been written. But let us view the matter fairly; what else shall I write? There is Poetry, in the first place!—Will you—will any one read epic or sonnet—tale or satire—tragedy or epigram?—Whatever be the variety, do you not except at once to the species?—and would you not deem it a less fatigue and a greater profit, to skim through three volumes, than to yawn over a single stanza?—A tide of popular opinion has set against poetry; and in the literary world, as in the natural, the tide and the hour can scarcely be neglected, even by the hardiest adventurer.—Putting, then, poetry out of our consideration—and I wish, for I have all the fondness and weakness of first love still clinging about me, that you would even attempt to convince me that I ought not to do so,—shall we turn to Philosophy? shall I write on the mind, or speculate on the senses?—Alas! to what end? we may judge of the demand for moral philosophy, when we reflect that Hobbes's works[2] are out of print, and that Mills's Analysis has not been reviewed. I will frankly confess to you, that writing is not with me its own reward; and that in order to write, I must first have the hope to be read. Politics, Essays, Travels, Biography, History;—are these subjects on which one is more likely to obtain a decent, a tolerably durable reputation, than one is by the composition of novels? I fear not. Let us look around! What encouragement to any of these subjects is held out to us? Are not writings of this sort far more the ephemerals of literature than writings of fiction?[3] Does the biography, or the essay, or the treatise, last even the year for which a novel endures? And if it does not exceed the novel in durability, it can scarcely equal it, you will allow, in popularity. The literary idler who receives it from the library, sends it away and waits for the review in the Quarterly; and the friend, the familiar, to whom you make it a present, shuns you during the rest of your life, lest you should inquire his opinion. You see, my dear * * * * * *, I have viewed the matter on a magnificent scale. I might have checked the question at once;—I might, instead of provoking discussion, by pointing out the unfitness of such attempts, have quieted it by a gentle allusion to the inability of the attempter;—I might have exclaimed "Poetry! I am a poetaster, not a poet. Philosophy! I am a student, not a discoverer. Essays! I have wearied you already with Essays in 'Devereux,' or the 'Disowned.' Travels! Where, oh! where have I travelled?" But this is not the age in which men are so uninventive in motives as to confess to a want of genius, or a scantiness of knowledge; and consequently, I beg you to believe that I write novels, not because I cannot write any thing else, but because novels are the best possible things to be written.

We live in a strange and ominous period for literature. In books as in other manufactures, the great aim seems the abridgement of labour: the idlest work is the most charming. People will only expend their time for immediate returns of knowledge; and the wholesome and fair profit, slow, but permanent, they call tedious in letters, and speculative in politics. This eager yet slothful habit of mind, now so general, has brought into notice an emigrant, and motley class of literature, formerly, in this country, little known and less honoured. We throw aside our profound researches, and feast upon popular abridgments; we forsake the old march through elaborate histories, for "a dip" into entertaining memoirs. In this, our immediate bias in literature, if any class of writing has benefited more than another in popularity and estimation, it is the Novel. Readers now look into fiction for facts; as Voltaire, in his witty philosophy, looked among facts for fiction. I do not say that the novel has, in increased merit, deserved its increased reputation: on the contrary, I think, that though our style may be less prolix than it was in the last century, our thoughts are more languid and our invention less racy.[4] However this be, the fashion in literature, of which I speak, has, among the wrecks of much that is great and noble, opened to second-rate ability and mediocre knowledge, paths that were shut to them before. And I, for one, if I have lost as a member of the Public, have gained more than proportionately as an Individual. I feel that I have just sufficient reading, or observation, or reflection, or talent of any sort, to make it possible that I may stumble in a light fiction upon some amusing, perhaps even some useful truths; while neither the reading, nor the observation, nor the reflection, nor the talent, are in all probability sufficient to entitle me to a momentary notice in any graver and more presuming composition. Then, too, I fancy at those "post-prandial hours," when a certain self-complacency diffuses its cheering caloric over the mind,——I fancy that I have also by accident stricken out a vein not so wholly hacknied, as that any of my immediate cotemporaries share the possession with myself: for the philosophical novel is at present not only little cultivated in any shape, but those who do break up the unpromising soil, are writers essentially grave and didactic. Such is the graceful and all-accomplished author of "De Vere;" or the fine creator of "St. Leon" and "Mandeville," to whose style may be applied the simile applied somewhat too flatteringly to that of Tertullian—that it is like ebony, at once dark and splendid. The novel, blending chiefly the comic, and occasionally the dramatic qualities with those of the reflective and analysing, is that which (except in "Devereux") I have sought out as the province of my own attempts; and in avoiding a competition with the distinguished writers I have just referred to, I aimed originally at prudence, and gained perhaps something of novelty.

You will observe that I have laid a stress on the words immediate cotemporaries, for I do not deceive myself with the idea that I have done any thing the least original; I have only endeavoured to revive what had passed a little into neglect; and if my books have had any success, it is owing to the goodness of the school, and in spite of the faults of the disciple. The combination of the philosophic novel with the comic has indeed long since, in two great authors, been carried to a perfection, which, I confess, I think is not likely to be attained, longo intervallo, by any succeeding writer. The first, and by far the greater of these, (I speak of Fielding) seems a man, who with an universal fame has never met with a full appreciation. To me, he appears not only incomparable as a Novelist—but also one of the soundest thinkers, and most scientific moralists that ever conferred honour on a country, and instruction on mankind. The second, Dr. Moore, has this remarkable merit; he has made us forgive in him, two sins that would have been beyond redemption in any other author,—viz. in style an odious affectation of Gallicisms, and in morals a furtive tendency to import the idea ready-made rather than to work out the raw material at home. To these two may be added Miss Edgeworth, the most faultless, if not the most brilliant of all novelists, past and present. I do not class her among immediate cotemporaries, partly because she seems to have altogether retired from the field, and partly because the same settled and quiet judgment has been passed upon her charming and useful tales which is in general reserved for the decision of posterity. Though I can only, then, advance a claim to the merit of the renewer, not the creator,—the furbisher of old pictures, not the artist of new,—I am yet very far from certain that I can reach even an equal merit in any other branch of literature; and thus you perceive a fourth[5] novel from my pen, where your unreflecting friendship would have wished to see an attempt in political morals or history:—History! after all, and despite of all discouragement, there is to every student, every man of closet, or academic, recollections, a wonderful stimulus in that word! and, perhaps, I may already, and in defiance of my own judgment, and the warnings around, have nursed within me some project in that most noble yet least ransacked department of intellectual research, which in after-years I may disappoint you and embody. But this is not to be lightly begun, nor even immaturely conceived; and how many casualties may arise to mar altogether the execution of such a project! how many casualties, even at the best, may procrastinate it to the languor of age, and the energies slackened by long familiarity with the crosses and contests of life! Often, when through youth and manhood we imagine we are cherishing our concluding triumph, we are only nursing our latest disappointment. Meanwhile, at present, if I anticipate but little gain, I can meet with but a trifling loss: I do not set my heart on the success of efforts, which, I allow with my enemies, (for to have enemies is the doom of literature, which even the most ordinary writer does not escape,) are petty and unimportant; I am not so elevated by the praise of this man, or so humbled by the blame of that, as to forfeit "the level temperature of the mind," or transgress the small and charmed circle from which Reason—a sorceress when she confines her efforts, an impostor when she enlarges them—banishes the intrusion of others. Nor do I myself believe that to any one who has formed the habit of application, is the production of books, whatever be their nature, (so long as they are neither in poetry nor abstract science) attended with that utter and absorbing engrossment of time which is usually imagined. Life has hours enough for all but the idle; and for my own part, if I were not in the common habit of turning to more important subjects, as a study, I should never have had the presumption to write even novels, as a recreation. Do not conceive, however, from what I have said, that I am going to write novels all the rest of my life,—I am excusing what has been, and is,—not prefacing what is to be.

I have now, my dear friend, said all that I wished to touch upon in excuse for the nature of my productions. I do not make you, nor, through you, my Readers, an apology for my egotism or my prolixity. To all writers a Dedication is unchallenged and licensed ground: to all Readers is granted a liberty, no less acknowledged—that of passing over it with whatever rapidity they please. I have been holding intercourse with you with as much frankness as if the letters I now write were not presently to be translated into the unfamiliar characters of the press; and if I have gone a little too largely into general or into individual topics, I must make amends by touching as briefly as possible on the work now before you.

For the original idea of Paul Clifford, I am indebted to a gentleman of considerable distinction in literature, and whose kindness to me is one of my most gratifying remembrances. This idea, had the work been shorter, would have pervaded the whole; as it is, it will be found embodied in those parts which, I believe, will be the most popular in the book. Such as the scene at Gentleman George's, the sketch of Bachelor Bill, &c. As example is more explanatory than detail, I refer to these passages for the illustration of my friend's suggestion, rather than attempt to unfold and enlarge on it here. In justice to my friend, I should add, first, that I feel I have given a very inadequate form to a conception that appears to me peculiarly felicitous; and secondly, that as I have made use of his idea rather as an adjunct to my story, than as the principal groundwork of the story itself, all the faults of plot and deficiencies of invention that may be found in the progress and dénouement of my tale, are solely and wholly to be laid to my charge.[6] It were to be wished that my friend had found leisure himself, among labours more important, to embody his own idea; or that, in giving me the canvass, he could have given me also his skill to colour and his talent to create.

I can scarcely conceive, what you, who are rather fastidious about the niceties of language, will think of the vulgar graces wherewith the greater part of my first volume is adorned. I must own, that I have on this point steeled myself against censure; for, independent of any latent application or irony in the dialect[7] I refer to, I am willing to risk an experiment, tried successfully in Scotland and Ireland—though not in the present day attempted in England:—of giving descriptive and appropriate dialogue to classes of society, far more capable of yielding interest or amusement to persons of any mental vigour, whatever be their rank, than trite copies of the languid inanities of a drawing-room, or lifeless portraits of originals, whose very boast it is to be scarcely alive.[8]

For any occasional retaliation on critics, enemies, or Scotchmen—(with me, for the most part, they have been found three appellations for the same thing,) for many very hard words, and very smart hits against myself—I offer no excuse:—my retaliation is in the spirit of English warfare—blows at one moment, and good humour the next.—As for Scotchmen, I am not quite sure that they have been yet able to expel from my breast the lurking kindness which it once bore towards them.—It is not an easy matter seriously to dislike, however ingeniously one may rail against, the country that has produced Burns, and Scott, and Campbell—a country too, by the way, with which you claim a connection, and of which the distinguished friend I have mentioned in this epistle is a native.—I return, only, gently enough at present, the first blows with which they have assailed me; I know what to expect in return, and shall scarcely be the one

"Who first cries 'Hold, enough!'"

But, speaking dispassionately, our good fellow-subjects on the other side of the Tweed have one little unpleasant foible which makes them less charming than they otherwise might be—they lose their temper the moment an Englishman gains a single advantage—they become preposterously angry if we get ever so small a name, nay ever so small a fortune in our own country;—they seem to imagine that God Almighty had made them a present of England to do exactly what they please with, and that the Englishman who interferes with their monopoly commits the very worst species of blasphemy.—Whenever we rise the least little step in the world, we are, it is true, sure to be abused; but I fancy, we shall find, on inquiry, that nine times out of ten, the abuse has been uttered in broad Scotch!

It has been made an objection to this book, that the style of the first volume differs from the style of the second and third: this difference was an especial object with me in writing the work. Scenes in society essentially contrasted, appear to require language suitable to the contrast, and I cannot but think that one of the great and ordinary faults in fiction, is the narrating all events, and describing all varieties, with the same monotonous and unmodulating tone.

The Hero of the story is an attempt to pourtray an individual of a species of which the country is now happily rid, but which seem to me to have possessed as many of the real properties of romance, especially comic and natural romance, as the foreign Carbonari and exotic pirates whom it has pleased English writers, in search of captivating villains, to import to their pages. For my part, I will back an English highwayman, masked, armed, mounted, and trotting over Hounslow Heath, against the prettiest rascal the Continent ever produced.

In conclusion, let me add that I have endeavoured to take warning from the errors of my preceding works. Perhaps it will be found that, in this the story is better conducted, and the interest more uniformly upheld, than in my other productions. I have outlived the Recluse's desire to be didascular, and have avoided alike essay-writing and digression;—in a word, I have studied more than in my two last works to write a tolerably entertaining novel. I have admitted only one episode of importance—the History of Augustus Tomlinson; and I have only admitted that exception, because the History is no episode in the moral and general design, though it is in the current of narration.

And now, my dear friend, it is high time that I should end an Epistle already too long, even for your patience. Whatever be the fate of this book, or of those which have preceded it; whether they have arisen like the insects kindled from the Sicilian fountain—quickened with one moment, and perishing with the next,—or whether, in spite of a thousand faults which no one can detect easier than myself, something, betokening, perhaps, no thoughtless or irreverent inattention to the varieties of Nature, and no unkindly disposition towards her offspring, may detain them on the public mind yet a little while beyond the brief season which gave them birth;——one gratification I have at least secured!—I have associated this novel, which I incline to hope may not be considered my worst, and which possibly may be my last, with such remembrances as will survive defeat, or endear success.

Adieu, my dear * * * * *,
Wishing you all health and happiness,
Believe me your very
Affectionate Friend,
E. L. B.

Hertford-street, April, 1830.

NOTE.

One or two Notes on, or allusions to, Moore's Life of Byron, will be found in these pages. Since they were written, the subject has grown a little hacknied, and the remarks they embody have been in some measure forestalled. At the time of composition, they were, however, new, and appeared to me called for.


  1. Burton
  2. In a collected shape.
  3. Nor is this, as at the first glance it may appear, owing to the fault or the unimportance of the writings themselves. While "The Sketch Book" is found in every young lady's dressing-room; and "Bracebridge Hall" is still in high request, in every country book-club; "The Life of Columbus," invaluable, if only from the subject so felicitously chosen; "The Wars of Grenada," scarcely less valuable from the subject so consummately adorned, and so stirringly painted; are, the one slowly passing into forgetfulness, and the other slumbering, with uncut leaves, upon the shelf. Compare the momentary sensation produced by the first appearance of Lord King's "Life of Locke," with the sensation, durable and intense, which, replete as it is with the treasure of Locke's familiar thoughts, it would have produced twenty years ago! "Godwin's History of the Commonwealth," one of the most manly and impartial records ever written, lives less upon the memory than "Almack's;" and "Cyril Thornton," produced some four years since, is in more immediate vogue than the admirable history by the same Author—published but the other day. True, that among a succeeding generation, there may possibly be a re-action—lethargic octavos be awakened from their untimely trance, and enlivened quartos "take up their beds and walk!" But now when people think as well as feel, and the present is to them that matter of reference and consideration which the future was with their more dreaming forefathers—the fame that is only posthumous, has become to all, but to poets, a very frigid and impotent inducement.
  4. In whatever I say of the novel, I cannot, of course, be supposed to include the fictions of Sir Walter Scott. I must also make two exceptions among the novels of his countrymen; the quaint and nervous humour of "Lawrie Todd," and the impassioned boldness of "Adam Blair."
  5. When I speak of my fourth novel, I omit "Falkland" from the number, an early and crude attempt which I have never hitherto owned—beyond my own small circle of friends;—and which I should not now speak of, were it not generally known to be mine—at least among all who have ever heard of it!
  6. I should add, also, that I alone am accountable for the personality of any caricatures in the scenes referred to: all that my friend suggested, was the satirical adaptation of living personages to fictitious characters in the station or profession of life which Old Bags and Long Ned adorn,—for the choice of those personages he is by no means answerable. I mention this, because it is but fair that I should take the chances of offence on myself;—though the broadness, and evident want of malice in the caricatures referred to, will, I venture to foretell, make those caricatured, the first—perhaps the only persons—to laugh at the exaggerated resemblance.
  7. It must be remembered, too, that this dialect is not the corruption of uncouth provincialisms. The language of the thieves, or the low Londoners, (a distinction, I fear, without a difference,) is perhaps one of the most expressive—nay, one of the most metaphysical in the world! What deep philosophy, for instance, is there in this phrase "the oil of Palms!"—(meaning money!)
  8. In some inimical, and rather personal but clever observations, made on me in a new periodical work, it is implied that people living in good society cannot write philosophically, or, it would seem, even well. I suppose of course the critic speaks of persons who live only in good society; and though the remark is not true, as it happens, singularly enough, that the best and most philosophical prose writers, in England especially, have been gentlemen, and lived for the most part, as a matter of course, among their equals, yet I shall content myself with saying, that the remark, true or false, in this case by no means applies to me, who have seen quite as much of the lowest orders as of any other, and who scarcely ever go into what is termed 'the world.' By the way, the Critic alluded to having been pleased in a very pointed manner to consider me the hero as well as author of my own book (Pelham), I am induced to say a few words on the subject. The year before Pelham appeared, I published "Falkland," in which the hero was essentially of the gloomy, romantic, cloud-like order; in short, Sir Reginald Glanville out-Glanvilled. The matter-of-fact gentry, who say "We," and call themselves Critics, declared that "Falkland" was evidently a personation of the author: next year out came "Pelham,"—the moral antipodes of "Falkland,"—and the same gentry said exactly the same thing of "Pelham." Will they condescend to reconcile this contradiction? The fact is, that the moment any prominency, any corporeal reality is given to a hero, and the hero (mark this) is not made ostentatiously good,—(nobody said I was like Mordaunt)—then the hero and the Author are the same person! This is one reason why heroes now-a-days are made such poor creatures. Authors, a quiet set of people, rarely like to be personally mixed up with their own creations. For my own part, though I might have an especial cause of complaint in this incorporation, since I have never even drawn two heroes alike, but made each, Falkland, Pelham, Mordaunt, and Devereux, essentially different; yet I am perfectly willing, if it gives the good people the least pleasure, that my Critics should confound me with Pelham. Nay, if Pelham be at all what he was meant to be, viz. a practical satire on the exaggerated, and misanthropical romance of the day—a human being whose real good qualities put to shame the sickly sentimentalism of blue skies and bare throats, sombre coxcombries and interesting villanies; if he be at all like this, I am extremely proud to be mistaken for him. For though he is certainly a man who bathes and "lives cleanly," (two especial charges preferred against him by Messrs. the Great Unwashed,) yet he is also brave, generous, just; a true friend, an active citizen—perfect in accomplishments—unshakeable in principles!—What, is this my portrait—my fac-simile, Gentlemen?—Upon my word, I am extremely obliged to you. Pray go on!—I would not interrupt you for the world!