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Ifj in the records of classic story, we are told, that "the most superb and lasting monument that was ever consecrated to beauty, was that to which every lover carried a tribute;" then, among the accumulated productions of successive volumes, those which, though they convey no new information, yet illustrate, on the whole, some old truth; those which, though they add nothing to the stores of genius or of science, yet if they help to establish and enforce a single principle of virtue, they may be accepted as an additional mite cast by the willing hand of affectionate indigence into the treasury of Christian morals.
The great father of Roman eloquence has asserted, that though every man should propose to himself the highest degrees in the scale of excellence, yet he may stop with honor at the second or the third. Indeed, the utility of some books to some persons would be defeated by their very superiority. The writer may be above the reach of his reader; he may be too lofty to be pursued; he may be too profound to be fathomed; he may be too abstruse to be investigated; for to produce delight there must be intelligence; there must be something of concert and congruity. There must be, not merely that intelligibility which arises from the perspicuousness of the author, but that also which depends on the capacity and perception of flie reader. Between him who writes, and him who reads, there must be a kind of coalition of interests, something of a partnership (however unequal the capital) in mental property; a sort of joint-stock of tastes and ideas. The student must have been initiated into the same intellectual commerce with him whom he studies j for large bills are only negotiable among the mutually opulent
There are, perhaps, other reasons, why popularity is no infallible test of excellence. Many readers, even of good faculties, if those faculties have been kept inert by a disuse of exertion, feel, often, most sympathy with writers of a middle class; and find more repose in a mediocrity which lulls and amuses the mind, than with a loftiness and extent which exalts and expands it. To enjoy works of superlative ability, as was before suggested, the reader must have been accustomed to drink at the same spring from which the writer draws; he must be at the expense of furnishing part of his own entertainment, by bringing with him a share of the science or of the spirit with which the author writes.
These are some of the considerations, which, while my gratitude has been excited by the favorable reception of my various attempts, have helped to correct that vanity which is so easily kindled, where merit and success are evidently disproportionate.
For fair criticism I have ever been truly thankful. For candid correction, from whatever quarter it came, I have always exhibited the most unquestionable proof of my regard, by adopting it. Nor can I call to mind any instance of improvement which has been suggested to me, by which I have neglected to profit* I am not Insensible to human estimation. To the approbation of the wise and good, I have been perhaps but too sensible. But I check myself in the indulgence of this dangerous pleasure, by recollecting that the hour is fast approaching to all,—to me it is very fast approaching, —when no human verdict, of whatever authority in itself, and however favorable to its object, will avail any thing, but inasmuch as it is crowned with the acquittal of that Judge whose favor is eternal life. Every emotion of vanity dies away, every swelling of ambition subsides, before the consideration of this solemn responsibility. And though I have just avowed my deference for the opinion of private critics, and of public censors, yet my anxiety with respect to the sentence of both is considerably diminished by the reflection, that not the writings, but the writer, will very soon be called to another tribunal, to be judged on far other grounds than those on which the decisions of literary statutes are framed; a tribunal at which the sentence passed will depend on far other causes than the observation or neglect of the rules of composition; than the violation of any precepts, or the adherence to any decrees of critic legislation.
* If it be objected, that this has not been the case with respect to one single passage, which has excited some controversy, it has arisen not from any wank of openness to conviction in me, but from my conceiving myself to have beat misunderstood, and, for that reason only, misrepresented.
With abundant cause to be humbled at the mixed motives of even my least exceptionable writings, I am willing to hope that in those of later date, at least, vanity has not been the governing principle. And if, in sending abroad the present collection, some sparks of this inextinguishable fire should struggle to break out, let it be at once quenched by the reflection, that of those persons whose kindness stimulated, and whose partiality rewarded, my early efforts—of those who would have dwelt on these pages with most pleasure—the eyes of the greater part are closed, to open no more in this world. Even while the pen is in my hand framing this remark, more than one affecting corroboration of its trutn occurs. May this reflection, at once painful and salutary, be ever at hand, to curb the insolence of success, or to countervail the mortification of defeat! May it serve to purify the motives of action, while it inspires resignation to its event! And may it effect both, without diminishing the energies- of duty—without abating the activity of labor!
CONTENTS OF WOL. I.
Religion is for the man in humble life, and to raise his nature, and to put him in mind of a state in which the privileges of opulence will cease, when he will be equal by nature, and may be more than equal by virtue.
Bukke on the French Revolution.
To improve the habits, and raise the principles of the common people, at a time when their dangers and temptations, moral and political, were multiplied beyond the example of any former period, was the motive which impelled the Author of these volumes to devise and prosecute the institution of the Cheap Repository. This plan was established with an humble wish, not only to counteract vice and profligacy on the one hand, but error, discontent, and false religion, on the other. And as an appetite for reading had, from a variety of causes, been increasing among the inferior ranks in this country, it was judged expedient, at this critical period, to supply such wholesome aliment as might give a new direction to their taste, and abate their relish for those corrupt and inflammatory publications which the consequences of the French revolution have been so fatally pouring in upon us.
The success of the plan exceeded the most sanguine expectation of its projector. Above two millions of the tracts were sold within the first year, besides very large numbers in Ireland; and they continue to be very extensively circulated, in their original form of single pieces, and also in three bound volumes.
As these stories, though principally, are not calculated exclusively for the middle and lower classes of society, the Author has, at the desire of her friends, selected those which were written by herself, and presented them to the public in this collection of her Works, in an enlarged and improved form.