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Preface to the first edition

  • _February 14, 1805._
  • Yet another novel from the same pen, which has twice before claimed the
  • patience of the public in this form. The unequivocal indulgence which has been
  • extended to my two former attempts, renders me doubly solicitous not to
  • forfeit the kindness I have experienced.
  • One caution I have particularly sought to exercise: "not to repeat myself."
  • Caleb Williams was a story of very surprising and uncommon events, but which
  • were supposed to be entirely within the laws and established course of nature,
  • as she operates in the planet we inhabit. The story of St. Leon is of the
  • miraculous class; and its design, to "mix human feelings and passions with
  • incredible situations, and thus render them impressive and interesting."
  • Some of those fastidious readers—they may be classed among the best friends an
  • author has, if their admonitions are judiciously considered—who are willing to
  • discover those faults which do not offer themselves to every eye, have
  • remarked that both these tales are in a vicious style of writing; that Horace
  • has long ago decided that the story we cannot believe we are by all the laws
  • of criticism called upon to hate; and that even the adventures of the honest
  • secretary, who was first heard of ten years ago, are so much out of the usual
  • road that not one reader in a million can ever fear they will happen to
  • himself.
  • Gentlemen critics, I thank you. In the present volumes I have served you with
  • a dish agreeable to your own receipt, though I cannot say with any sanguine
  • hope of obtaining your approbation.
  • The following story consists of such adventures as for the most part have
  • occurred to at least one half of the Englishmen now existing who are of the
  • same rank of life as my hero. Most of them have been at college, and shared in
  • college excesses; most of them have afterward run a certain gauntlet of
  • dissipation; most have married, and, I am afraid, there are few of the married
  • tribe who have not at some time or other had certain small misunderstandings
  • with their wives.[[1]](footnotes.xml#footnote_1) To be sure, they have not all
  • of them felt and acted under these trite adventures as my hero does. In this
  • little work the reader will scarcely find anything to "elevate and surprise;"
  • and, if it has any merit, it must consist in the liveliness with which it
  • brings things home to the imagination, and the reality it gives to the scenes
  • it pourtrays. Yes, even in the present narrative, I have aimed at a certain
  • kind of novelty—a novelty which may be aptly expressed by a parody on a well-
  • known line of Pope; it relates: "Things often done, but never yet described."
  • In selecting among common and ordinary adventures, I have endeavoured to avoid
  • such as a thousand novels before mine have undertaken to develop. Multitudes
  • of readers have themselves passed through the very incidents I relate; but,
  • for the most part, no work has hitherto recorded them. If I have hold them
  • truly, I have added somewhat to the stock of books which should enable a
  • recluse, shut up in his closet, to form an idea of what is passing in the
  • world. It is inconceivable, meanwhile, how much, by this choice of a subject,
  • I increased the arduousness of my task. It is so easy to do, a little better,
  • or a little worse, what twenty authors have done before! If I had foreseen
  • from the first all the difficulty of my project, my courage would have failed
  • me to undertake the execution of it. Certain persons, who condescend to make
  • my supposed inconsistencies the favourite object of their research, will
  • perhaps remark with exultation on the respect expressed in this work for
  • marriage, and exclaim, "It was not always thus!" referring to the pages in
  • which this subject is treated in the "Enquiry concerning Political Justice"
  • for the proof of their assertion. The answer to this remark is exceedingly
  • simple. The production referred to in it, the first foundation of its author's
  • claim to public distinction and favour, was a treatise, aiming to ascertain
  • what new institutions in political society might be found more conducive to
  • general happiness than those which at present prevail. In the course of this
  • disquisition it was enquired whether marriage, as it stands described and
  • supported in the laws of England, might not with advantage admit of certain
  • modifications. Can anything be more distinct than such a proposition on the
  • one hand and a recommendation on the other that each man for himself should
  • supersede and trample upon the institutions of the country in which he lives?
  • A thousand things might be found excellent and salutary, if brought into
  • general practice, which would in some cases appear ridiculous, and in others
  • be attended with tragical consequences, if prematurely acted upon by a
  • solitary individual. The author of "Political Justice," as appears again and
  • again in the pages of that work, is the last man in the world to recommend a
  • pitiful attempt, by scattered examples, to renovate the face of society,
  • instead of endeavouring, by discussion and reasoning, to effect a grand and
  • comprehensive improvement in the sentiments of its members.