Preface to the Miscellanies and Poems
THE volumes I now present the public consist, as their title indicates, of various matter; treating of subjects which bear not the least relation to each other, and perhaps, what Martial says of his epigrams, may be applicable to these several productions.
- Sunt bona, sunt quædam mediocria, sunt mala PLURA.
At least, if the bona be denied me, I shall, I apprehend, be allowed the other two.
The poetical pieces which compose the first part of the first volume were most of them written when I was very young, and are indeed productions of the heart rather than of the head. If the good-natured reader thinks them tolerable, it will answer my warmest hopes. This branch of writing is what I very little pretend to, and will appear to have been very little my pursuit, since I think (one or two poems excepted) I have here presented my reader with all I could remember, or procure copies of.
My modernization of part of the sixth satire of Juvenal will, I hope, give no offence to that half of our species, for whom I have the greatest respect and tenderness. It was originally sketched out before I was twenty, and was all the revenge taken by an injured lover. For my part, I am much more inclined to panegyric on that amiable sex, which I have always thought treated with a very unjust severity by ours, who censure them for faults (if they are truly such) into which we allure and betray them, and of which we ourselves, with an unblamed licence, enjoy the most delicious fruits.
As to the Essay on Conversation, however it may be executed, my design in it will be at least allowed good; being to ridicule out of society one of the most pernicious evils which attends it, viz., pampering the gross appetites of selfishness and ill-nature with the shame and disquietude of others; whereas I have endeavoured in it to show, that true good-breeding consists in contributing, with our utmost power, to the satisfaction and happiness of all about us.
In my Essay on the Knowledge of the Characters of Men, I have endeavoured to expose a second great evil, namely, hypocrisy; the bane of all virtue, morality, and goodness; and to arm, as well as I can, the honest, undesigning, open-hearted man, who is generally the prey of this monster, against it. I believe a little reflection will convince us, that most mischiefs (especially those which fall on the worthiest part of mankind) owe their original to this detestable vice.
I shall pass over the remaining part of this volume, to the Journey from this World to the next, which fills the greatest share of the second.
It would be paying a very mean compliment to the human understanding, to suppose I am under any necessity of vindicating myself from designing, in an allegory of this kind, to oppose any present system, or to erect a new one of my own: but perhaps the fault may lie rather in the heart than in the head; and I may be misrepresented, without being misunderstood. If there are any such men, I am sorry for it; the good-natured reader will not, I believe, want any assistance from me to disappoint their malice.
Others may (and that with greater colour) arraign my ignorance; as I have, in the relation which I have put into the mouth of Julian, whom they call the Apostate, done many violences to history, and mixed truth and falsehood with much freedom. To these I answer. I profess fiction only; and though I have chosen some facts out of history to embellish my work, and fix a chronology to it, I have not, however, confined myself to nice exactness; having often ante-dated, and sometimes post-dated the matter I have found in the historian, particularly in the Spanish history, where I take both these liberties in one story.
The residue of this volume is filled with two dramatic pieces, both the productions of my youth, although the latter was not acted until this season. It was the third dramatic performance I ever attempted; the parts of Millamour and Charlotte being originally intended for Mr. Wilks and Mrs. Oldfield; but the latter died before it was finished; and a slight pique which happened between me and the former, prevented him from ever seeing it. The play was read to Mr. Rich upwards of twelve years since, in the presence of a very eminent physician of this age, who will bear me testimony, that I did not recommend my performance with the usual warmth of an author. Indeed I never thought, until this season, that there existed on any one stage, since the death of that great actor and actress above mentioned, any two persons capable of supplying their loss in those parts: for characters of this kind do, of all others, require most support from the actor, and lend the least assistance to him.
From the time of its being read to Mr. Rich, it lay by me neglected and unthought of, until this winter, when it visited the stage in the following manner.
Mr. Garrick, whose abilities as an actor will, I hope, rouse up better writers for the stage than myself, asked me one evening, if I had any play by me; telling me he was desirous of appearing in a new part. I answered him I had one almost finished; but I conceived it so little the manager's interest to produce anything new on his stage this season, that I should not think of offering it him, as I apprehended he would find some excuse to refuse me, and adhere to the theatrical politics, of never introducing new plays on the stage, but when driven to it by absolute necessity.
Mr. Garrick's reply to this was so warm and friendly, that, as I was full as desirous of putting words into his mouth, as he could appear to be of speaking them, I mentioned the play the very next morning to Mr. Fleetwood, who embraced my proposal so heartily, that an appointment was immediately made to read it to the actors who were principally to be concerned in it.
When I came to revise this play, which had likewise lain by me some years, though formed on a much better plan, and at an age when I was much more equal to the task, than the former; I found I had allowed myself too little tune for the perfecting it; but I was resolved to execute my promise, and accordingly, at the appointed day, I produced five acts, which were entitled, THE GOOD-NATURED MAN.
Besides, that this play appeared to me, on the reading, to be less completely finished than I thought its plan deserved; there was another reason which dissuaded me from bringing it on the stage as it then stood, and this was, that the very actor on whose account I had principally been inclined to have it represented, had a very inconsiderable part in it.
Notwithstanding my private opinion, of which I then gave no intimation, The Good-natured Man was received, and ordered to be written into parts, Mr. Garrick professing himself very ready to perform his; but as I remained dissatisfied, for the reasons above mentioned, I now recollected my other play, in which I remembered there was a character I had originally intended for Mr. Wilks.
Upon perusal, I found this character was preserved with some little spirit, and (what I thought would be a great recommendation to the audience) would keep their so justly favourite actor almost eternally before their eyes. I apprehended (in which I was not deceived) that he would make so surprising a figure in this character, and exhibit talents so long unknown to the theatre, that, as hath happened in other plays, the audience might be blinded to the faults of the piece, for many I saw it had, and some very difficult to cure.
I accordingly sat down with a resolution to work night and day during the short time allowed me, which was about a week, in altering and correcting this production of my more juvenile years; when unfortunately, the extreme danger of life into which a person, very dear to me, was reduced, rendered me incapable of executing my task.
To this accident alone, I have the vanity to apprehend, the play owes most of the glaring faults with which it appeared. However, I resolved rather to let it take its chance, imperfect as it was, with the assistance of Mr. Garrick, than to sacrifice a more favourite, and in the opinion of others, a much more valuable performance, and which could have had very little assistance from him.
I then acquainted Mr. Garrick with my design, and read it to him, and Mr. Macklin; Mr. Fleetwood agreed to the exchange, and thus the WEDDING DAY was destined to the stage.
Perhaps it may be asked me, why then did I suffer a piece, which I myself knew was imperfect, to appear? I answer honestly and freely, that reputation was not my inducement; and that I hoped, faulty as it was, it might answer a much more solid, and in my unhappy situation, a much more urgent motive. If it will give my enemies any pleasure to know that they totally frustrated my views, I will be kinder to them, and give them a satisfaction which they denied me; for though it was acted six nights, I received not 50l. from the house for it.
This was indeed chiefly owing to a general rumour spread of its indecency; which originally arose, I believe, from some objections of the licenser, who had been very unjustly censured for being too remiss in his restraints on that head; but as every passage which he objected to was struck out, and I sincerely think very properly so, I leave to every impartial judge to decide, whether the play, as it was acted, was not rather freer from such imputation than almost any other comedy on the stage. However, this opinion prevailed so fatally without doors, during its representation, that on the sixth night there were not above five ladies present in the boxes.
But I shall say no more of this comedy here, as I intend to introduce it the ensuing season, and with such alterations as will, I hope, remove every objection to it, and may make the manager some amends for what he lost by very honourably continuing its representation, when he might have got much more by acting other plays.
I come now to the third and last volume, which contains the History of Jonathan Wild. And here it will not, I apprehend, be necessary to acquaint my reader, that my design is not to enter the lists with that excellent historian, who from authentic papers and records, &c., hath already given so satisfactory an account of the life and actions of this great man. I have not indeed the least intention to depreciate the veracity and impartiality of that history; nor do I pretend to any of those lights, not having, to my knowledge, ever seen a single paper relating to my hero, save some short memoirs, which about the time of his death were published in certain chronicles called newspapers, the authority of which hath been sometimes questioned, and in the Ordinary of Newgate his account, which generally contains a more particular relation of what the heroes are to suffer in the next world, than of what they did in this.
To confess the truth, my narrative is rather of such actions which he might have performed, or would, or should have performed, than what he really did; and may, in reality, as well suit any other such great man, as the person himself whose name it bears.
A second caution I would give my reader is, that as it is not a very faithful portrait of Jonathan Wild himself, so neither is it intended to represent the features of any other person. Roguery, and not a rogue, is my subject; and as I have been so far from endeavouring to particularize any individual, that I have with my utmost art avoided it; so will any such application be unfair in my reader, especially if he knows much of the great world, since he must then be acquainted, I believe, with more than one on whom he can fix the resemblance.
In the third place, I solemnly protest, I do by no means intend in the character of my hero to represent human nature in general. Such insinuations must be attended with very dreadful conclusions; nor do I see any other tendency they can naturally have, but to encourage and soothe men in their villanies, and to make every well-disposed man disclaim his own species, and curse the hour of his birth into such a society. For my part, I understand those writers who describe human nature in this depraved character, as speaking only of such persons as Wild and his gang; and I think it may be justly inferred, that they do not find in their own bosoms any deviation from the general rule. Indeed it would be an insufferable vanity in them to conceive themselves as the only exception to it.
But without considering Newgate as no other than human nature with its mask off, which some very shameless writers have done, a thought which no price should purchase me to entertain, I think we may be excused for suspecting, that the splendid palaces of the great are often no other than Newgate with the mask on. Nor do I know anything which can raise an honest man's indignation higher than that the same morals should be in one place attended with all imaginable misery and infamy, and in the other, with the highest luxury and honour. Let any impartial man in his senses be asked, for which of these two places a composition of cruelty, lust, avarice, rapine, insolence, hypocrisy, fraud and treachery, was best fitted, surely his answer must be certain and immediate; and yet I am afraid all these ingredients, glossed over with wealth and a title, have been treated with the highest respect and veneration in the one, while one or two of them have been condemned to the gallows in the other.
If there are then any men of such morals who dare to call themselves great, and are so reputed, or called at least, by the deceived multitude, surely a little private censure by the few is a very moderate tax for them to pay, provided no more was to be demanded: but I fear this is not the case. However the glare of riches, and awe of title, may dazzle and terrify the vulgar; nay, however hypocrisy may deceive the more discerning, there is still a judge in every man's breast, which none can cheat nor corrupt, though perhaps it is the only uncorrupt thing about him. And yet, inflexible and honest as this judge is (however polluted the bench be on which he sits) no man can, in my opinion, enjoy any applause which is not thus adjudged to be his due.
Nothing seems to me more preposterous than that, while the way to true honour lies so open and plain, men should seek false by such perverse and rugged paths: that while it is so easy and safe, and truly honourable, to be good, men should wade through difficulty and danger, and real infamy, to be great, or, to use a synonymous word, villains.
Nor hath goodness less advantage in the article of pleasure, than of honour over this kind of greatness. The same righteous judge always annexes a bitter anxiety to the purchases of guilt, whilst it adds a double sweetness to the enjoyments of innocence and virtue: for fear, which all the wise agree is the most wretched of human evils, is, in some degree, always attending on the former, and never can in any manner molest the happiness of the latter.
This is the doctrine which I have endeavoured to inculcate in this history, confining myself at the same time within the rules of probability. (For except in one chapter, which is visibly meant as a burlesque on the extravagant accounts of travellers, I believe I have not exceeded it.) And though perhaps it sometimes happens, contrary to the instances I have given, that the villain succeeds in his pursuit, and acquires some transitory imperfect honour or pleasure to himself for his iniquity; yet I believe he oftener shares the fate of my hero, and suffers the punishment, without obtaining the reward.
As I believe it is not easy to teach a more useful lesson than this, if I have been able to add the pleasant to it, I might flatter myself with having carried every point.
But perhaps some apology may be required of me, for having used the word greatness to which the world hath affixed such honourable ideas, in so disgraceful and contemptuous a light. Now if the fact be, that the greatness which is commonly worshipped is really of that kind which I have here represented, the fault seems rather to lie in those who have ascribed to it those honours, to which it hath not in reality the least claim.
The truth, I apprehend, is, we often confound the ideas of goodness and greatness together, or rather include the former in our idea of the latter. If this be so, it is surely a great error, and no less than a mistake of the capacity for the will. In reality, no qualities can be more distinct: for as it cannot be doubted but that benevolence, honour, honesty, and charity, make a good man; and that parts, courage, are the efficient qualities of a great man, so must it be confessed, that the ingredients which compose the former of these characters bear no analogy to, nor dependence on, those which constitute the latter. A man may therefore be great without being good, or good without being great.
However, though the one bear no necessary dependence on the other, neither is there any absolute repugnancy among them which may totally prevent their union so that they may, though not of necessity, assemble in the same mind, as they actually did, and all in the highest degree, in those of Socrates and Brutus; and perhaps in some among us. I at least know one to whom Nature could have added no one great or good quality more than she hath bestowed on him.
Here then appear three distinct characters; the great, the good, and the great and good.
The last of these is the true sublime, in human nature. That elevation by which the soul of man, raising and extending itself above the order of this creation, and brightened with a certain ray of divinity, looks down on the condition of mortals. This is indeed a glorious object, on which we can never gaze with too much praise and admiration. A perfect work! the Iliad of Nature! ravishing and astonishing, and which at once fills us with love, wonder, and delight.
The second falls greatly short of this perfection, and yet hath its merit. Our wonder ceases; our delight is lessened; but our love remains; of which passion, goodness hath always appeared to me the only true and proper object. On this head I think proper to observe, that I do not conceive my good man to be absolutely a fool or a coward; but that he often partakes too little of parts or courage to have any pretensions to greatness.
Now as to that greatness which is totally devoid of goodness, it seems to me in nature to resemble the false sublime in poetry; whose bombast is, by the ignorant and ill-judging vulgar, often mistaken for solid wit and eloquence, whilst it is in effect the very reverse. Thus pride, ostentation, insolence, cruelty, and every kind of villainy, are often construed into true greatness of mind, in which we always include an idea of goodness.
This bombast greatness then is the character I intend to expose; and the more this prevails in and deceives the world, taking to itself not only riches and power, but often honour, or at least the shadow of it, the more necessary is it to strip the monster of these false colours, and show it in its native deformity: for by suffering vice to possess the reward of virtue, we do a double injury to society, by encouraging the former, and taking away the chief incentive to the latter. Nay, though it is, I believe, impossible to give vice a true relish of honour and glory, or, though we give it riches and power, to give it the enjoyment of them, yet it contaminates the food it can't taste, and sullies the robe which neither fits nor becomes it, till virtue disdains them both.
Thus have I given some short account of these works. I come now to return thanks to those friends who have with uncommon pains forwarded this subscription: for though the number of my subscribers be more proportioned to my merit, than their desire or expectation, yet I believe I owe not a tenth part to my own interest. My obligations on this head are so many, that for fear of offending any by preference, I will name none. Nor is it indeed necessary, since I am convinced they served me with no desire for a public acknowledgment; nor can I make any to some of them, equal with the gratitude of my sentiments.
I cannot, however, forbear mentioning my sense of the friendship shewn me by a profession of which I am a late and unworthy member, and from whose assistance I derive more than half the names which appear to this subscription.
It remains that I make some apology for the delay in publishing these volumes, the real reason of which was, the dangerous illness of one from whom I draw all the solid comfort of my life, during the greatest part of this winter. This, as it is most sacredly true, so will it, I doubt not, sufficiently excuse the delay to all who know me.
Indeed when I look a year or two backwards, and survey the accidents which have befallen me, and the distresses I have waded through whilst I have been engaged in these works, I could almost challenge some philosophy to myself, for having been able to finish them as I have; and however imperfectly that may be, I am convinced the reader, was he acquainted with the whole, would want very little good-nature to extinguish his disdain at any faults he meets with.
But this hath dropped from me unawares: for I intend not to entertain my reader with my private history: nor am I fond enough of tragedy to make myself the hero of one.
However, as I have been very unjustly censured, as well on account of what I have not written, as for what I have, I take this opportunity to declare in the most solemn manner, I have long since (as long as from June, 1741) desisted from writing one syllable in the Champion, or any other public paper; and that I never was, nor will be, the author of anonymous scandal on the private history or family of any person whatever.
Indeed there is no man who speaks or thinks with more detestation of the modern custom of libelling. I look on the practice of stabbing a man's character in the dark, to be as base and as barbarous as that of stabbing him with a poignard in the same manner; nor have I ever been once in my life guilty of it.
It is not here, I suppose, necessary to distinguish between ridicule and scurrility; between a jest on a public character, and the murther of a private one.
My reader will pardon my having dwelt a little on this particular, since it is so especially necessary in this age, when almost all the wit we have is applied this way; and when I have already been a martyr to such unjust suspicion. Of which I will relate one instance. While I was last winter laid up in the gout, with a favourite child dying in one bed, and my wife in a condition very little better on another, attended with other circumstances, which served as very proper decorations to such a scene, I received a letter from a friend, desiring me to vindicate myself from two very opposite reflections, which two opposite parties thought fit to cast on me, viz., the one of writing in the Champion (though I had not then written in it for upwards of half a year), the other, of writing in the Gazetteer, in which I never had the honour of inserting a single word.
To defend myself therefore as well as I can from all past, and to enter a caveat against all future, censure of this kind, I once more solemnly declare, that since the end of June, 1741, I have not, besides Joseph Andrews, published one word, except The Opposition, a Vision. A Defence of the Dutchess of Marlborough's Book. Miss Lucy in Town (in which I had a very small share). And I do farther protest, that I will never hereafter publish any book or pamphlet whatever, to which I will not put my name. A promise which, as I shall sacredly keep, so will it, I hope, be so far believed, that I may henceforth receive no more praise or censure, to which I have not the least title.
And now, my good-natured reader, recommending my works to your candour, I bid you heartily farewell; and take this with you, that you may never be interrupted in the reading these Miscellanies with that degree of heartache which hath often discomposed me in the writing them.