Martin Chuzzlewit HTML version
What is exaggeration to one class of minds and perceptions, is plain truth to
another. That which is commonly called a long-sight, perceives in a prospect
innumerable features and bearings non-existent to a short-sighted person. I
sometimes ask myself whether there may occasionally be a difference of this
kind between some writers and some readers; whether it is ALWAYS the writer
who colours highly, or whether it is now and then the reader whose eye for colour
is a little dull?
On this head of exaggeration I have a positive experience, more curious than the
speculation I have just set down. It is this: I have never touched a character
precisely from the life, but some counterpart of that character has incredulously
asked me: "Now really, did I ever really, see one like it?"
All the Pecksniff family upon earth are quite agreed, I believe, that Mr. Pecksniff
is an exaggeration, and that no such character ever existed. I will not offer any
plea on his behalf to so powerful and genteel a body, but will make a remark on
the character of Jonas Chuzzlewit.
I conceive that the sordid coarseness and brutality of Jonas would be unnatural,
if there had been nothing in his early education, and in the precept and example
always before him, to engender and develop the vices that make him odious.
But, so born and so bred, admired for that which made him hateful, and justified
from his cradle in cunning, treachery, and avarice; I claim him as the legitimate
issue of the father upon whom those vices are seen to recoil. And I submit that
their recoil upon that old man, in his unhonoured age, is not a mere piece of
poetical justice, but is the extreme exposition of a direct truth.
I make this comment, and solicit the reader's attention to it in his or her
consideration of this tale, because nothing is more common in real life than a
want of profitable reflection on the causes of many vices and crimes that awaken
the general horror. What is substantially true of families in this respect, is true of
a whole commonwealth. As we sow, we reap. Let the reader go into the
children's side of any prison in England, or, I grieve to add, of many workhouses,
and judge whether those are monsters who disgrace our streets, people our
hulks and penitentiaries, and overcrowd our penal colonies, or are creatures
whom we have deliberately suffered to be bred for misery and ruin.
The American portion of this story is in no other respect a caricature than as it is
an exhibition, for the most part (Mr. Bevan expected), of a ludicrous side, ONLY,
of the American character--of that side which was, four-and-twenty years ago,
from its nature, the most obtrusive, and the most likely to be seen by such
travellers as Young Martin and Mark Tapley. As I had never, in writing fiction, had
any disposition to soften what is ridiculous or wrong at home, so I then hoped
that the good-humored people of the United States would not be generally
disposed to quarrel with me for carrying the same usage abroad. I am happy to
believe that my confidence in that great nation was not misplaced.
When this book was first published, I was given to understand, by some
authorities, that the Watertoast Association and eloquence were beyond all