This novel so far differs from the other fictions by the same author that it seeks to draw its interest rather from practical than ideal sources. Out of some twelve Novels or Romances, embracing, however inadequately, a great variety of scene and character — from “Pelham” to the “Pilgrims of the Rhine,” from “Rienzi” to the “Last Days of Pompeii,”—“Paul Clifford” is the only one in which a robber has been made the hero, or the peculiar phases of life which he illustrates have been brought into any prominent description.
Without pausing to inquire what realm of manners or what order of crime and sorrow is open to art, and capable of administering to the proper ends of fiction, I may be permitted to observe that the present subject was selected, and the Novel written, with a twofold object: First, to draw attention to two errors in our penal institutions; namely, a vicious prison-discipline, and a sanguinary criminal code — the habit of corrupting the boy by the very punishment that ought to redeem him, and then hanging the man at the first occasion, as the easiest way of getting rid of our own blunders. Between the example of crime which the tyro learns from the felons in the prison-yard, and the horrible levity with which the mob gather round the drop at Newgate, there is a connection which a writer may be pardoned for quitting loftier regions of imagination to trace and to detect. So far this book is less a picture of the king’s highway than the law’s royal road to the gallows — a satire on the short cut established between the House of Correction and the Condemned Cell. A second and a lighter object in the novel of “Paul Clifford” (and hence the introduction of a semi-burlesque or travesty in the earlier chapters) was to show that there is nothing essentially different between vulgar vice and fashionable vice, and that the slang of the one circle is but an easy paraphrase of the cant of the other.
The Supplementary Essays, entitled “Tomlinsoniana,” which contain the corollaries to various problems suggested in the Novel, have been restored to the present edition.
CLIFTON, July 25, 1840.
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