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The History of Pendennis


Preface
If this kind of composition, of which the two years' product is now laid
before the public, fail in art, as it constantly does and must, it at least has
the advantage of a certain truth and honesty, which a work more elabor-
ate might lose. In his constant communication with the reader, the writer
is forced into frankness of expression, and to speak out his own mind
and feelings as they urge him. Many a slip of the pen and the printer,
many a word spoken in haste, he sees and would recall as he looks over
his volume. It is a sort of confidential talk between writer and reader,
which must often be dull, must often flag. In the course of his volubility,
the perpetual speaker must of necessity lay bare his own weaknesses,
vanities, peculiarities. And as we judge of a man's character, after long
frequenting his society, not by one speech, or by one mood or opinion, or
by one day's talk, but by the tenor of his general bearing and conversa-
tion; so of a writer, who delivers himself up to you perforce unre-
servedly, you say, Is he honest? Does he tell the truth in the main? Does
he seem actuated by a desire to find out and speak it? Is he a quack, who
shams sentiment, or mouths for effect? Does he seek popularity by
claptraps or other arts? I can no more ignore good fortune than any other
chance which has befallen me. I have found many thousands more read-
ers than I ever looked for. I have no right to say to these, You shall not
find fault with my art, or fall asleep over my pages; but I ask you to be-
lieve that this person writing strives to tell the truth. If there is not that,
there is nothing.
Perhaps the lovers of 'excitement' may care to know, that this book
began with a very precise plan, which was entirely put aside. Ladies and
gentlemen, you were to have been treated, and the writer's and the
publisher's pocket benefited, by the recital of the most active horrors.
What more exciting than a ruffian (with many admirable virtues) in St.
Giles's, visited constantly by a young lady from Belgravia? What more
stirring than the contrasts of society? the mixture of slang and fashion-
able language? the escapes, the battles, the murders? Nay, up to nine
o'clock this very morning, my poor friend, Colonel Altamont, was
doomed to execution, and the author only relented when his victim was
actually at the window.
The 'exciting' plan was laid aside (with a very honourable forbearance
on the part of the publishers), because, on attempting it, I found that I
failed from want of experience of my subject; and never having been in-
timate with any convict in my life, and the manners of ruffians and gaol-
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