The Adventures of Roderick Random HTML version

The Author's Preface
Of all kinds of satire, there is none so entertaining and universally improving, as that
which is introduced, as it were occasionally, in the course of an interesting story, which
brings every incident home to life, and by representing familiar scenes in an uncommon
and amusing point of view, invests them with all the graces of novelty, while nature is
appealed to in every particular. The reader gratifies his curiosity in pursuing the
adventures of a person in whose favour he is prepossessed; he espouses his cause, he
sympathises with him in his distress, his indignation is heated against the authors of his
calamity: the humane passions are inflamed; the contrast between dejected virtue and
insulting vice appears with greater aggravation, and every impression having a double
force on the imagination, the memory retains the circumstance, and the heart improves
by the example. The attention is not tired with a bare catalogue of characters, but
agreeably diverted with all the variety of invention; and the vicissitudes of life appear in
their peculiar circumstances, opening an ample field for wit and humour.
Romance, no doubt, owes its origin to ignorance, vanity, and superstition. In the dark
ages of the World, when a man had rendered himself famous for wisdom or valour, his
family and adherents availed themselves of his superior qualities, magnified his virtues,
and represented his character and person as sacred and supernatural. The vulgar
easily swallowed the bait, implored his protection, and yielded the tribute of homage and
praise, even to adoration; his exploits were handed down to posterity with a thousand
exaggerations; they were repeated as incitements to virtue; divine honours were paid,
and altars erected to his memory, for the encouragement of those who attempted to
imitate his example; and hence arose the heathen mythology, which is no other than a
collection of extravagant romances. As learning advanced, and genius received
cultivation, these stories were embellished with the graces of poetry, that they might the
better recommend themselves to the attention; they were sung in public, at festivals, for
the instruction and delight of the audience; and rehearsed before battle, as incentives to
deeds of glory. Thus tragedy and the epic muse were born, and, in the progress of
taste, arrived at perfection. It is no wonder that the ancients could not relish a fable in
prose, after they had seen so many remarkable events celebrated in verse by their best
poets; we therefore find no romance among them during the era of their excellence,
unless the Cyropaedia of Xenophon may be so called; and it was not till arts and
sciences began to revive after the irruption of the barbarians into Europe, that anything
of this kind appeared. But when the minds of men were debauched by the imposition of
priestcraft to the most absurd pitch of credulity, the authors of romance arose, and
losing sight of probability, filled their performances with the most monstrous hyperboles.
If they could not equal the ancient poets in point of genius. they were resolved to excel
them in fiction, and apply to the wonder, rather than the judgment, of their readers.
Accordingly, they brought necromancy to their aid, and instead of supporting the
character of their heroes by dignity of sentiment and practice, distinguished them by
their bodily strength, activity, and extravagance of behaviour. Although nothing could be
more ludicrous and unnatural than the figures they drew, they did not want patrons and