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TO MR. CHARLES WILEY, BOOKSELLER.
EVERY man is, more or less, the sport of accident; nor do I know that authors are at all exempted from this humiliating influence. This is the third of my novels, and it depends on two very uncertain contingencies, whether it will not be the last :-the one being the public opinion, and the other mine own humour. The first book was written, because I was told that I could not write grave
that the world did not know
I wrote one that was so grave nobody would read it; wherein I think that I had much the best of the argument. The second was written to see if I could not overcome this neglect of the reading world. How far I have succeeded, Mr. CHARLES WILEY, must ever remain a secret between ourselves. The third has been written, exclusively, to please myself: so it would be no wonder if it displeased every body else ; for what
two ever thought alike, on a subject of the imagination?
I should think criticism to be the perfection of human acquirements, did there not exist this discrepancy in taste. Just as I have made up my mind to adopt the very sagacious hints of one learned Reviewer, a pamphlet is put into my hands, containing the remarks of another, who condemns all that his rival praises, and praises all that his rival condemns. There I am, left like an ass between two locks of hay; so that I have determined to relinquish my animate nature, and remain stationary, like a lock of hay between two asses.
It is now a long time, say the wise ones, since the world has been told all that is new and novel. But the Reviewers (the cunning wights !) have adopted an ingenious expedient, to give a freshness to the most trite idea. They clothe it in a language so obscure and metaphysical, that the reader is not about to comprehend their pages without some labour.
This is called a great thought;" and not improperly, as I can testify; for, in my own case, I have frequently ranged the universe of ideas, and come back again in as perfect ignorance of their meaning as when I set out. It is delightful, to see the literati of a circulating library get hold of one of these difficult periods ! Their praise of the performance is exactly commensurate with its obscurity. Every body knows, that to seem wise is the first requisite in a great man.
A common word in the mouths of all Reviewers, readers of magazines, and young ladies, when speaking of novels, is " keeping ;" and yet there are but few who attach the same meaning to it. I belong, myself, to the old school, in this particular, and think that it applies more to the subject in hand, than to any use of terms, or of cant expressions. As a man might just as well be out of the world as out of "keeping,” I have endeavoured to confine myself, in this tale, strictly to its observ
This is a formidable curb to the imagination, as, doubtless, the reader will very soon discover; but under its influence I have come to the conclusion, that the writer of a tale, who takes the earth for the scene of his story, is in some degree bound to respect human nature. Therefore I would advise any one, who may take up this book, with the expectation of meeting gods and goddesses, spooks or witches, or of feeling that strong excitement that is produced by battles and murders, to throw it aside at once, for no such interest will be found in any of its pages.
I have already said that it was mine own humour that suggested this tale; but it is a humour that is deeply connected with feeling. Happier periods, more interesting events, and possibly, more beauteous scenes, might have been selected, to exemplify my subject; but none of either that would be so dear to me. I wish, therefore, to be judged more by what I have done, than by my sins of omission. I have introduced one battle, but it is
not of the most Homeric kind. As for murders, the population of a new country will not admit of such a waste of human life. There might possibly have been one or two hangings, to the manifest advantage of the “ settlement ;" but then it would have been out of “ keeping” with the humane laws of this compassionate country.
The “Pioneers” is now before the world, Mr. WILEY, and I shall look to you for the only true account of its reception. The critics may write as obscurely as they please, and look much wiser than they are; the papers may puff or abuse, as their changeful humours dictate; but if you meet me with a smiling face, I shall at once know that all is essentially well.
If you should ever have occasion for a preface, I beg you will let me hear from you in reply.
THE AUTHOR. New-York, January 1st, 1823.