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Charles Dickens > Martin Chuzzlewit > Preface

Martin Chuzzlewit


What is exaggeration to one class of minds and perceptions,
is plain truth to another. That which is commonly called a long-sight,
perceives in a prospect innumerable features and bearings
non-existent to a short-sighted person. I sometimes ask myself
whether there may occasionally be a difference of this kind between
some writers and some readers; whether it is ALWAYS the writer
who colours highly, or whether it is now and then the reader
whose eye for colour is a little dull?

On this head of exaggeration I have a positive experience, more
curious than the speculation I have just set down. It is this:
I have never touched a character precisely from the life, but some
counterpart of that character has incredulously asked me: "Now
really, did I ever really, see one like it?"

All the Pecksniff family upon earth are quite agreed, I believe,
that Mr. Pecksniff is an exaggeration, and that no such character
ever existed. I will not offer any plea on his behalf to so
powerful and genteel a body, but will make a remark on the
character of Jonas Chuzzlewit.

I conceive that the sordid coarseness and brutality of Jonas
would be unnatural, if there had been nothing in his early
education, and in the precept and example always before him,
to engender and develop the vices that make him odious. But,
so born and so bred, admired for that which made him hateful,
and justified from his cradle in cunning, treachery, and avarice;
I claim him as the legitimate issue of the father upon whom those
vices are seen to recoil. And I submit that their recoil upon
that old man, in his unhonoured age, is not a mere piece of
poetical justice, but is the extreme exposition of a direct truth.

I make this comment, and solicit the reader's attention to it in
his or her consideration of this tale, because nothing is more
common in real life than a want of profitable reflection on the
causes of many vices and crimes that awaken the general horror.
What is substantially true of families in this respect, is true
of a whole commonwealth. As we sow, we reap. Let the reader go
into the children's side of any prison in England, or, I grieve
to add, of many workhouses, and judge whether those are monsters
who disgrace our streets, people our hulks and penitentiaries, and
overcrowd our penal colonies, or are creatures whom we have
deliberately suffered to be bred for misery and ruin.

The American portion of this story is in no other respect a
caricature than as it is an exhibition, for the most part (Mr.
Bevan expected), of a ludicrous side, ONLY, of the American
character--of that side which was, four-and-twenty years ago,
from its nature, the most obtrusive, and the most likely to be
seen by such travellers as Young Martin and Mark Tapley. As I
had never, in writing fiction, had any disposition to soften what
is ridiculous or wrong at home, so I then hoped that the
good-humored people of the United States would not be generally
disposed to quarrel with me for carrying the same usage abroad.
I am happy to believe that my confidence in that great nation was
not misplaced.

When this book was first published, I was given to understand, by
some authorities, that the Watertoast Association and eloquence
were beyond all bounds of belief. Therefore I record the fact
that all that portion of Martin Chuzzlewit's experiences is a
literal paraphrase of some reports of public proceedings in the
United States (especially of the proceedings of a certain Brandywine
Association), which were printed in the Times Newspaper in June
and July, 1843--at about the time when I was engaged in writing
those parts of the book; and which remain on the file of the Times
Newspaper, of course.

In all my writings, I hope I have taken every available opportunity
of showing the want of sanitary improvements in the neglected
dwellings of the poor. Mrs. Sarah Gamp was, four-and-twenty years
ago, a fair representation of the hired attendant on the poor in
sickness. The hospitals of London were, in many respects, noble
Institutions; in others, very defective. I think it not the least
among the instances of their mismanagement, that Mrs. Betsey Prig
was a fair specimen of a Hospital Nurse; and that the Hospitals,
with their means and funds, should have left it to private humanity
and enterprise, to enter on an attempt to improve that class of
persons--since, greatly improved through the agency of good women.

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