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TALES OF THE HALL.
Ir I did not fear that it would appear to ray readers like arrognncy, or if it did not Htd to myself indecorous to send two volumes of considerable magnitude from the press without preface or apology, without use petition for the reader's attention, or one plea for the writer's defects, I would most willingly spare myself an address of this kind, and more especially for these reasons: first, because a preface is a part of a book seldom honoured by a reader's perusal; secondly, because it is both diffiult and distressing to write that which ve think will be disregarded; and thirdly, Wcause I do not conceive that I am called ■ipsa for such introductory matter by any of the motives which usually influence an anther when he composes his prefatory address.
When a writer, whether of poetry or prose, first addresses the public, he has generally something to offer which relates to himself or to his work, and which he roasiders as a necessary prelude to the work itself, to prepare his readers for the entertainment or the instruction they may expect to receive; for one of these every man who publishes must suppose he affords—this the act itself implies; and in proportion to his conviction of this fact mast be his feeling of the difficulty in which he has placed himself: the difficulty consists in reconciling the implied presumption of the undertaking, whether to please or to instruct mankind, with the diffidence and modesty of an untried candidate for fame or favour. Hence originate the many reasons an author assigns for his appearance in that character, whether they actually exist, or are merely offered to hide the motives which cannot be openly avowed; namely, the want or the vanity of the man, as his wishes for profit or reputation may most prevail with him.
Now, reasons of this kind, whatever they wi be, cannot be availing beyond their lint appearance. An author, it is true, may again feel his former apprehensions,
may again be elevated or depressed by the suggestions of vanity and diffidence, and may be again subject to the cold and hot fit of aguish expectation; but he is no more a stranger to the press, nor has the motives or privileges of one who is. With respect to myself, it is certain they belong not to me. Many years have elapsed since I became a candidate for indulgence as an inexperienced writer; nnd to assume the langunge of such a writer now, and to plead for his indulgences, would be proof of my ignorance of the place assigned to me, and the degree nf favour which I have experienced; but of that place I am not uninformed, and with that degree of favour I have no reason to be dissatisfied.
It was the remark nf the pious, but on some occasions the querulous author of the Kight Thoughts, that he had "been so long remembered, he was forgotten;" an expression in whicli there is more appearance of discontent than of submission: if he had patience, it was not the patience that smiles at grief. It is not therefore entirely in the sense of the good Doctor that I apply these words to myself, or to my more early publications. So many years indeed have passed since their first appearance, that I have no reason to complain, on that account, if they be now slumbering with other poems of decent reputation in their day—not dead indeed, nor entirely forgotten, but certainly not the subjects of discussion or conversation as when first introduced to the notice of the public, by those whom the public will not forget, whose protection was credit to their author, nnd whose approbation was fame to them. Still these early publications had so long preceded any other, that, if not altogether unknown, I was, when I came again before the public, in a situation which excused, and perhaps rendered necessary some explanation; but this also has passed away, and none of my readers will now take the trouble of making any inquiries respecting my motives for writing or for publishing these Talcs or verses of any description: known to ciu-h other ns renders and authors are known, they will require no preface to bespeak their good will, nor shall I he under the necessity of soliciting the kindness which experience has taught me, endeavouring to merit, I shall not fail to receive.
There is one motive—and it is a powerful one-—which sometimes induces nn author, and more particularly a poet, to ask the attention of his renders to his prefatory address. This is when he ha* some favourite and peculiar style or manner which he would explain and defend, nnd chiefly if he should have adopted a mode of versification of which an uninitiated reader was not likely to perceive either the merit or the beauty. In such case it is natural, nnd surely pardonable, to nssert and to prove, as far as reason will bear us nn, that such method of writing has both; to show in what the beauty consists, and M hat peculiar difficulty there is, which, when conquered, creates the merit. Mow fnr any particular poet has or has not succeeded in such attempt is not my business nor my purpose to inquire. I have no peculiar notion to defend, no poetical heterodoxy to support, nor theory of any kind to vindicate or oppose—that which I have used is probably the most common measure in our Innguage; and therefore, whatever be its advantages or defects. they are too well known to require from me a description of the one, or an apology for the other.
I'erhaps still more frequent than any explanation of the work is nn account of the author himself, the situation jn which he is placed, or some circumstances of peculiar kind in his life, education, or employment. How often has youth been pleaded for deficiencies or redundancies, for the existence of which youth mny be an exruse, and yet be none for their exposure. Age too has been pleaded for the errors and failings in n work which the octogenarian had the discernment to perceive, and yet hnd not the fortitude to suppress. Many other circumstances nre made apologies fnr n writer's infirmities; his much employment and many avneutions, adversity, necessity, nnd the good of mankind. These, or any of them, however availing in themselves, mail not me. I am neither so young nor so old. so much engaged by one pursuit, or by many,—I nm not so urged by wnnt. or so stimulated by a desire of public benefit,—that I can borrow one apology from the ninny which I have ■mined. How far they prevail with our readers, or with our judges. I cannot tell; nnd it is unnecessary far me to inquire into the validity of argument* which I have not to produce.
If there be any combination of circumstances which mny be supposed to affect the mind of a reader, and in some degree to influence his judgment, the junction of youth, beauty, nnd merit in a female writer may be allowed to do this; and yet one of the most forbidding of titles is -I'ocms by n very young Lady,' and this although beauty and merit were largely insinuated. Ladies, it is true, have of late little need of any indulgence ns authors, and names may readily be found which rather excite the envy of man than plead for his lenity. Our estimation of title nlso in a writer has materially varied from that of our predecessors: 'I'ocms by a Nobleman' would create a very different sensation in our minds from that which was formerly excited when they were so announced. A noble author had then no pretensions to a seat so secure on the 'sacred hill,' that authors not noble, and critics not gentle, dared not attack; and they delighted to take revenge by their contempt nnd derision of the poet, for the pain which their submission nnd respect to the man hnd cost them. But in our times we find tbut a nobleman writes, not merely ns well, but better than other men; insomuch that readers in general begin to fancy that the Muses have relinquished their old pnrtinlity for rags and a garret, nnd are become altogether aristoerutiral in their choice A conceit so well supported by fart would be readily admitted, did it not appear at the same time, that there were in the higher ranks of society men, who could write as tamely, or as absurdly, as they had ever been accused of doing. We may, therefore, regard the works of any noble author as extraordinary productions, but must not found any theory upon them, nnd, notwithstanding their appearance, must look on genius and talent as we are wont to do on time nnd chance, that happen indifferently to all mankind.
But whatever influence any peculiar situation of a writer might have, it cannot he n benefit to me, who have no such peculiarity. I must rely upon the willingness of my readers to be pleased-with that which was designed to give them pleasure, nnd upon the cordiality which naturally springs from n remembrance of our having before pnrtrd without any feelings of disgust nn the one side, or of mortification on the other.
With this hope I would conclude the present subject; but I am called upon by duty to acknowledge my obligations, and more especially for two of the following Tales:—The Story of Ladv Barbara, in Book XVI. and that of Ellen 'in Bonk XVIII. The first of these I owe to the kindness of a fair friend, who will, I hope, accept the thanks which I very gratefully pay.