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IN LIEU OF PREFACE
When I devised this story, I foresaw the likelihood that a class of
readers and commentators would suppose that I was at great pains
to conceal exactly what I was at great pains to suggest: namely,
that Mr John Harmon was not slain, and that Mr John Rokesmith
was he. Pleasing myself with the idea that the supposition might
in part arise out of some ingenuity in the story, and thinking it
worth while, in the interests of art, to hint to an audience that an
artist (of whatever denomination) may perhaps be trusted to know
what he is about in his vocation, if they will concede him a little
patience, I was not alarmed by the anticipation.
To keep for a long time unsuspected, yet always working itself out,
another purpose originating in that leading incident, and turning it
to a pleasant and useful account at last, was at once the most
interesting and the most difficult part of my design. Its difficulty
was much enhanced by the mode of publication; for, it would be
very unreasonable to expect that many readers, pursuing a story in
portions from month to month through nineteen months, will, until
they have it before them complete, perceive the relations of its finer
threads to the whole pattern which is always before the eyes of the
story-weaver at his loom. Yet, that I hold the advantages of the
mode of publication to outweigh its disadvantages, may be easily
believed of one who revived it in the Pickwick Papers after long
disuse, and has pursued it ever since.
There is sometimes an odd disposition in this country to dispute as
improbable in fiction, what are the commonest experiences in fact.
Therefore, I note here, though it may not be at all necessary, that
there are hundreds of Will Cases (as they are called), far more
remarkable than that fancied in this book; and that the stores of the
Prerogative Office teem with instances of testators who have made,
changed, contradicted, hidden, forgotten, left cancelled, and left
uncancelled, each many more wills than were ever made by the
elder Mr Harmon of Harmony Jail.
In my social experiences since Mrs Betty Higden came upon the
scene and left it, I have found Circumlocutional champions
disposed to be warm with me on the subject of my view of the Poor
Law. Mr friend Mr Bounderby could never see any difference
between leaving the Coketown 'hands' exactly as they were, and
requiring them to be fed with turtle soup and venison out of gold
spoons. Idiotic propositions of a parallel nature have been freely
offered for my acceptance, and I have been called upon to admit
that I would give Poor Law relief to anybody, anywhere, anyhow.
Putting this nonsense aside, I have observed a suspicious tendency
in the champions to divide into two parties; the one, contending
that there are no deserving Poor who prefer death by slow
starvation and bitter weather, to the mercies of some Relieving
Officers and some Union Houses; the other, admitting that there
are such Poor, but denying that they have any cause or reason for
what they do. The records in our newspapers, the late exposure by
THE LANCET, and the common sense and senses of common
people, furnish too abundant evidence against both defences. But,
that my view of the Poor Law may not be mistaken or
misrepresented, I will state it. I believe there has been in England,
since the days of the STUARTS, no law so often infamously
administered, no law so often openly violated, no law habitually so
ill-supervised. In the majority of the shameful cases of disease
and death from destitution, that shock the Public and disgrace the
country, the illegality is quite equal to the inhumanity--and known
language could say no more of their lawlessness.
On Friday the Ninth of June in the present year, Mr and Mrs
Boffin (in their manuscript dress of receiving Mr and Mrs Lammle
at breakfast) were on the South Eastern Railway with me, in a
terribly destructive accident. When I had done what I could to help
others, I climbed back into my carriage--nearly turned over a
viaduct, and caught aslant upon the turn--to extricate the worthy
couple. They were much soiled, but otherwise unhurt. The same
happy result attended Miss Bella Wilfer on her wedding day, and
Mr Riderhood inspecting Bradley Headstone's red neckerchief as
he lay asleep. I remember with devout thankfulness that I can
never be much nearer parting company with my readers for ever,
than I was then, until there shall be written against my life, the two
words with which I have this day closed this book:--THE END.
September 2nd, 1865.
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