Memoirs of Vidocq, Volume I/Preface

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It was in the month of January 1828, that I finished these Memoirs, of which it was my wish to direct the publication personally. Unfortunately, in the month of February I broke my right arm; and as it was fractured in five places, it was thought that amputation must ensue. For more than six weeks my life was in danger, and I was in the most racking agonies. In this distressing situation I was scarcely in condition to re-write my manuscript, and give it the finishing touches: but I had sold it, and the bookseller was anxious to publish, and offered me a reviser. Deceived by the recommendation of a writer well spoken of in the literary world, to perform a work, which under no other circumstances would I have trusted to other hands, he introduced to me one of those pretended men of letters, whose excessive impudence conceals their stupidity, and who had no other object in view than to make money. This pretended literatus boasted so much of his individual merits, that I was somewhat suspicious; but he was backed by so respectable an introduction, that I rejected all suspicion as unjust, and agreed to avail myself of his aid until I was convalescent. This worthy ran over the manuscript; and, after a superficial glance to show his ability, he declared, according to custom, that there was a great deal to revise and correct. The bookseller also, according to custom, believed his assertion, and I was persuaded of this truth also; and, like so many others who do not boast of it, I had got hold of a botcher.

Certainly there was much to alter in my style: I knew nothing of the forms of literary style, but yet I had some method; I knew that tautology was to be avoided; and if I was not so good a grammarian as Vaugelas, either by intuitiveness or by habit, I could always avoid bad orthography. Vidocq writing at all correctly was perhaps an unlikelihood in the eyes of my censor, I know not, but this is the case:—

In July last, I went to Douai, to get a confirmation of the pardon granted me in 1818, and on my return I asked for the printed proofs of my Memoirs; and as my restoration to the rights of a citizen did not allow of my fearing any arbitrary injunctions from the authorities, I had proposed revising my manuscript, and including all relative to the police, so as to complete the information till then kept back.

What was my astonishment when, on reading the first volume and part of the second, I found that my compilation had been entirely altered; and that, instead of a narrative developing perpetually the sallies, vivacity, and energy of my character, another had been foisted in, totally deprived of all life, colouring, or promptitude. With few alterations, the facts were nearly the same; but all that was casual, involuntary, and spontaneous, in a turbulent career, was given as the long premeditation of evil intent. The necessity that impelled me was altogether passed over; I was made the scoundrel of the age, or rather a Compere Mathieu, without one redeeming point of sensibility, conscience, remorse, or repentance. To crown my disgrace, the only motives that can justify some avowals of a candour somewhat uncommon, were not allowed to appear; I was only a shameless villain, who unblushingly united with the immorality of some of his actions the desire of narrating them. To lessen me still more, a language was attributed to me of the most puerile sort. I really felt myself humiliated with the details which the press had produced, and which I should certainly have obliterated, had I not relied on the revision of a man of judgment. I was shocked at the multitude of vicious conversations, long circumlocution, and prolix phrases, in which the ear, good sense, and syntax, were equally offended. I could not conceive how, with the total deficiency of talent, any person could assume the title of a literary man. But suspicions quickly arose, and in the suppression of certain names, which I was surprised not to find (that of my successor, Coco-Lacour, for instance), I thought I could trace the finger of the retired police, and the traces of a transaction which my bookseller and myself had no wish should appear. Apparently, Delavau and Franchet, informed of my sad accident, which precluded me from superintending a publication which must disquiet them, had profited by the circumstance, to garble my Memoirs in such a way as to paralyze beforehand the effect of those discoveries on which they would have little cause for self-gratulation. All conjecture was fair: and I could only accuse the incapacity of my reviser; and as without vanity, I was more satisfied with my own prose than his, I begged him to terminate his labours.

It would seem that he had no objection,—but could he leave his post? He stated his bargain, and the commencement of his labours, by virtue of which he assumed a privilege of mutilating me at his pleasure, and to do what he pleased with me as long as he chose, if he received his "consideration." I had a much greater right to ask him for damages and recompense; but where there is neither cash nor honesty, what avails any demand of this nature? To lose no time in useless debate, I had back my manuscript, and payed its ransom under certain reservations, which I kept "in petto."

From this moment, I determined to destroy the pages in which my life and various adventures were mentioned without apology. A complete destruction was the surest method of overturning an intrigue, of which the plot was easily decyphered; but the first volume was ready, and the second far advanced. A total suppression would have been too considerable a sacrifice for the bookseller; and, on the other hand, by a culpable breach of confidence, the pirate trafficking in a fraudulent manner, sold my Memoirs in London; and, inserted by extracts in the newspapers, they soon reached Paris, where they were given as translations. The theft was audacious; I do not hesitate to point out the author. I might prosecute him; his deeds shall not go unpunished. In the mean time, I thought it best to publish with all speed, to secure the bookseller, and that he might not be anticipated by a robbery unheard of in the literary world. Such an inducement was necessary to urge me to sacrifice all personal feeling: and it is because the consideration has been all powerful with me, that, contrary to my own interest and to satisfy the public impatience, I accept now as my own, a production which, at first, I would have rejected. In this text all is true; only the truth, as far as regards me, is told with too little carefulness, and without any of those precautions which a general confession requires, and by which every one will pass judgment on me. The principal defect is in a too careless disposition, for which I alone can complain. Some alterations have appeared indispensable, and I have made them. This explains the difference of tone which may be observed in comparing some parts of these Memoirs; but after my entering amongst the corsairs at Boulogne, it will be perceived that I have no longer an interpreter; no one has thence meddled or shall hereafter meddle with the task I have imposed on myself, of unfolding to the public all that can interest them. I speak, and will speak, without reserve, without restriction, and with all the frankness of a man who has no longer cause for fear; and who, at last restored to the fulness of those rights of which he was unjustly deprived, aspires to the fullest exercise of them. If any doubts be created as to the reality of this intention, it is only necessary to refer my reader to the last chapter of my second volume, when he will have ample proof that I have the will and the power of keeping my word.

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.