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Charles Dickens > Little Dorrit > Preface

Little Dorrit


I have been occupied with this story, during many working hours of
two years. I must have been very ill employed, if I could not
leave its merits and demerits as a whole, to express themselves on
its being read as a whole. But, as it is not unreasonable to
suppose that I may have held its threads with a more continuous
attention than anyone else can have given them during its desultory
publication, it is not unreasonable to ask that the weaving may be
looked at in its completed state, and with the pattern finished.

If I might offer any apology for so exaggerated a fiction as the
Barnacles and the Circumlocution Office, I would seek it in the
common experience of an Englishman, without presuming to mention
the unimportant fact of my having done that violence to good
manners, in the days of a Russian war, and of a Court of Inquiry at
Chelsea. If I might make so bold as to defend that extravagant
conception, Mr Merdle, I would hint that it originated after the
Railroad-share epoch, in the times of a certain Irish bank, and of
one or two other equally laudable enterprises. If I were to plead
anything in mitigation of the preposterous fancy that a bad design
will sometimes claim to be a good and an expressly religious
design, it would be the curious coincidence that it has been
brought to its climax in these pages, in the days of the public
examination of late Directors of a Royal British Bank. But, I
submit myself to suffer judgment to go by default on all these
counts, if need be, and to accept the assurance (on good authority)
that nothing like them was ever known in this land.
Some of my readers may have an interest in being informed whether
or no any portions of the Marshalsea Prison are yet standing. I
did not know, myself, until the sixth of this present month, when
I went to look. I found the outer front courtyard, often mentioned
here, metamorphosed into a butter shop; and I then almost gave up
every brick of the jail for lost. Wandering, however, down a
certain adjacent 'Angel Court, leading to Bermondsey', I came to
'Marshalsea Place:' the houses in which I recognised, not only as
the great block of the former prison, but as preserving the rooms
that arose in my mind's-eye when I became Little Dorrit's
biographer. The smallest boy I ever conversed with, carrying the
largest baby I ever saw, offered a supernaturally intelligent
explanation of the locality in its old uses, and was very nearly
correct. How this young Newton (for such I judge him to be) came
by his information, I don't know; he was a quarter of a century too
young to know anything about it of himself. I pointed to the
window of the room where Little Dorrit was born, and where her
father lived so long, and asked him what was the name of the lodger
who tenanted that apartment at present? He said, 'Tom Pythick.'
I asked him who was Tom Pythick? and he said, 'Joe Pythick's

A little further on, I found the older and smaller wall, which used
to enclose the pent-up inner prison where nobody was put, except
for ceremony. But, whosoever goes into Marshalsea Place, turning
out of Angel Court, leading to Bermondsey, will find his feet on
the very paving-stones of the extinct Marshalsea jail; will see its
narrow yard to the right and to the left, very little altered if at
all, except that the walls were lowered when the place got free;
will look upon rooms in which the debtors lived; and will stand
among the crowding ghosts of many miserable years.

In the Preface to Bleak House I remarked that I had never had so
many readers. In the Preface to its next successor, Little Dorrit,
I have still to repeat the same words. Deeply sensible of the
affection and confidence that have grown up between us, I add to
this Preface, as I added to that, May we meet again!

May 1857

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