Paul Clifford Page 01
By Edward Bulwer-Lytton
PREFACE TO THE EDITION OF 1840.
This novel so far differs from the other fictions by the same author that it seeks to draw its interest rather from practical than ideal sources. Out of some twelve Novels or Romances, embracing, however inadequately, a great variety of scene and character,--from "Pelham" to the "Pilgrims of the Rhine," from "Rienzi" to the "Last Days of Pompeii,"--"Paul Clifford" is the only one in which a robber has been made the hero, or the peculiar phases of life which he illustrates have been brought into any prominent description.
Without pausing to inquire what realm of manners or what order of crime and sorrow is open to art, and capable of administering to the proper ends of fiction, I may be permitted to observe that the present subject was selected, and the Novel written, with a twofold object: First, to draw attention to two errors in our penal institutions; namely, a vicious prison-discipline, and a sanguinary criminal code,--the habit of corrupting the boy by the very punishment that ought to redeem him, and then hanging the man at the first occasion, as the easiest way of getting rid of our own blunders. Between the example of crime which the tyro learns from the felons in the prison-yard, and the horrible levity with which the mob gather round the drop at Newgate, there is a connection which a writer may be pardoned for quitting loftier regions of imagination to trace and to detect. So far this book is less a picture of the king's highway than the law's royal road to the gallows,--a satire on the short cut established between the House of Correction and the Condemned Cell. A second and a lighter object in the novel of "Paul Clifford" (and hence the introduction of a semi-burlesque or travesty in the earlier chapters) was to show that there is nothing essentially different between vulgar vice and fashionable vice, and that the slang of the one circle is but an easy paraphrase of the cant of the other.
The Supplementary Essays, entitled "Tomlinsoniana," which contain the corollaries to various problems suggested in the Novel, have been restored to the present edition.
CLIFTON, July 25, 1840.
PREFACE TO THE EDITION OF 1848.
Most men who with some earnestness of mind examine into the mysteries of our social state will perhaps pass through that stage of self-education in which this Novel was composed. The contrast between conventional frauds, received as component parts of the great system of civilization, and the less deceptive invasions of the laws which discriminate the meum from the tuum, is tempting to a satire that is not without its justice. The tragic truths which lie hid in what I may call the Philosophy of Circumstance strike through our philanthropy upon our imagination. We see masses of our fellow-creatures the victims of circumstances over which they had no control,--contaminated in infancy by the example of parents, their intelligence either extinguished or turned against them, according as the conscience is stifled in ignorance or perverted to apologies for vice. A child who is cradled in ignominy, whose schoolmaster is the felon, whose academy is the House of Correction,--who breathes an atmosphere in which virtue is poisoned, to which religion does not pierce,--becomes less a responsible and reasoning human being than a wild beast which we suffer to range in the wilderness, till it prowls near our homes, and we kill it in self-defence.
In this respect the Novel of "Paul Clifford" is a loud cry to society to amend the circumstance,--to redeem the victim. It is an appeal from Humanity to Law. And in this, if it could not pretend to influence or guide the temper of the times, it was at least a foresign of a coming change. Between the literature of imagination, and the practical interests of a people, there is a harmony as complete as it is mysterious. The heart of an author is the mirror of his age. The shadow of the sun is cast on the still surface of literature long before the light penetrates to law; but it is ever from the sun that the shadow falls, and the moment we see the shadow we may be certain of the light.
Since this work was written, society has been busy with the evils in which it was then silently acquiescent. The true movement of the last fifteen years has been the progress of one idea,--Social Reform. There it advances with steady and noiseless march behind every louder question of constitutional change. Let us do justice to our time. There have been periods of more brilliant action on the destinies of States, but there is no time visible in History in which there was so earnest and general a desire to improve the condition of the great body of the people. In every circle of the community that healthful desire is astir. It unites in one object men of parties the most opposed; it affords the most attractive nucleus for public meetings; it has cleansed the statute-book from blood; it is ridding the world of the hangman.