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MANY of the papers in my collected works were originally written under one set of disadvantages, and are now revised under another. They were written generally under great pressure as to time, in order to catch the critical periods of monthly journals; written oftentimes at a distance from the press (so as to have no opportunity for correction); and always written at a distance from libraries, so that very many statements, references, and citations, were made on the authority of my unassisted memory. Under such circumstances were most of the papers composed; and they are now reissued in a corrected form, sometimes even partially recast, under the distraction of a nervous misery which embarrasses my efforts in a mode and in a degree inexpressible by words. Such, indeed, is the distress produced by this malady, that, if the present act of republication had in any respect worn the character of an experiment, I should have shrunk from it in despondency. But the experiment, so far as there was any, had been already tried for me vicariously amongst the Americans; a people so nearly repeating our own in style of intellect, and in the composition of their reading class, that a success amongst them counts for a success amongst ourselves. For some few of the separate papers in these volumes I make pretensions of a higher cast. These pretensions I will explain hereafter. All the rest I resign to the reader's unbiased judgment, adding here, with respect to four of them, a few prefatory words - not of propitiation or deprecation, but simply in explanation as to points that would otherwise be open to misconstruction.
1. The paper on "Murder as one of the Fine Arts" 1 seemed to exact from me some account of Williams, the dreadful London murderer of the last generation; not only because the amateurs had so much insisted on his merit as the supreme of artists for grandeur of design and breadth of style; and because, apart from this momentary connection with my paper, the man himself merited a record for his matchless audacity, combined with so much of snaky subtlety, and even insinuating amiableness, in his demeanor; but also because, apart from the man himself, the works of the man (those two of them
1 Published in the "Miscellaneous Essays."
especially which so profoundly impressed the nation in 1812) were in themselves, for dramatic effect, the most impressive on record. Southey pronounced their preeminence when he said to me that they ranked amongst the few domestic events which, by the depth and the expansion of horror attending them, had risen to the dignity of a national interest. I may add that this interest benefited also by the mystery which invested the murders; mystery as to various points, but especially as respected one important question, Had the murderer any accomplice ?1 There was, therefore, reason enough, both in the man's hellish character, and in the mystery which surrounded him, for a Postscript2 to the original paper; since, in a lapse of forty-two years, both the man and his deeds had faded away from the knowledge of the present generation; but still I am sensible that my record is far too diffuse. Feeling this at the very time of writing, I was yet unable to correct it; so little self-control was I able to exercise under the afflicting agitations and the unconquerable impatience of my nervous malady.
2. "War."- In this paper, from having faultily adjusted its proportions in the original outline, I find that I have dwelt too briefly and too feebly upon the capital interest at stake. To apply a correction to some popular misreadings of history, to show that the criminal (because trivial) occasions of war are not always its true causes, or to suggest that war (if resigned to its own natural movement of progress) is cleansing itself and ennobling itself constantly and inevitably, were it only through its connection with science ever more and more exquisite, and through its augmented costliness,—all this may have its use in offering some restraint upon the levity of action or of declamation in Peace Societies. But all this is below the occasion. I feel that far grander interests are at stake in this contest. The Peace Societies are falsely appreciated, when they are described as merely deaf to the lessons of experience, and as too "romantic' in their expectations. The very opposite is, to my thinking, their crim
1 Upon a large overbalance of probabilities, it was, however, definitively agreed amongst amateurs that Williams must have been alone in these atrocities. Meantime, amongst the colorable presumptions on the other side was this: - Some hours after the last murder, a man was apprehended at Barnet (the first stage from London on a principal north road), encumbered with a quantity of plate. How he came by it, or whither he was going, he steadfastly refused to say. In the daily journals, which he was allowed to see, he read with eagerness the police examinations of Williams; and on the same day which announced the catastrophe of Williams, he also committed suicide in his cell.
2 Published in the "Note Book."
3 Published in "Narrative and Miscellaneous Essays."