Heart and Science : a story of the present time, by Wilkie Collins

II. To Readers in Particular.

If you are numbered among those good friends of ours, who are especially capable of understanding us and sympathising with us, be pleased to accept the expression of our gratitude, and to pass over the lines that follow.

But if you open our books with a mind soured by distrust; if you habitually anticipate inexcusable ignorance where the course of the story happens to turn on matters of fact; it is you, Sir or Madam, whom I now want.

Not to dispute with you — far from it! I own with sorrow that your severity does occasionally encounter us on assailable ground. But there are exceptions, even to the stiffest rules. Some of us are not guilty of wilful carelessness: some of us apply to competent authority, when we write on subjects beyond the range of our own experience. Having thus far ventured to speak for my colleagues, you will conclude that I am paving the way for speaking next of myself. As our cousins in the United States say — that is so.

In the following pages, there are allusions to medical practice at the bedside; leading in due course to physiological questions which connect themselves with the main interest of the novel. In traversing this delicate ground, you have not been forgotten. Before the manuscript went to the printer, it was submitted for correction to an eminent London surgeon, whose experience extends over a period of forty years.

Again: a supposed discovery in connection with brain disease, which occupies a place of importance, is not (as you may suspect) the fantastic product of the author’s imagination. Finding his materials everywhere, he has even contrived to make use of Professor Ferrier — writing on the “Localisation of Cerebral Disease,” and closing a confession of the present result of post-mortem examination of brains in these words: “We cannot even be sure, whether many of the changes discovered are the cause or the result of the Disease, or whether the two are the conjoint results of a common cause.” Plenty of elbow room here for the spirit of discovery.

On becoming acquainted with “Mrs. Gallilee,” you will find her talking — and you will sometimes even find the author talking — of scientific subjects in general. You will naturally conclude that it is “all gross caricature.” No; it is all promiscuous reading. Let me spare you a long list of books consulted, and of newspapers and magazines mutilated for “cuttings”— and appeal to examples once more, and for the last time.

When “Mrs. Gallilee” wonders whether “Carmina has ever heard of the Diathermancy of Ebonite,” she is thinking of proceedings at a conversazione in honour of Professor Helmholtz (reported in the Times of April 12, 1881), at which “radiant energy” was indeed converted into “sonorous vibrations.” Again: when she contemplates taking part in a discussion on Matter, she has been slily looking into Chambers’s Encyclopaedia, and has there discovered the interesting conditions on which she can “dispense with the idea of atoms.” Briefly, not a word of my own invention occurs, when Mrs. Gallilee turns the learned side of her character to your worships’ view.

I have now only to add that the story has been subjected to careful revision, and I hope to consequent improvement, in its present form of publication. Past experience has shown me that you have a sharp eye for slips of the pen, and that you thoroughly enjoy convicting a novelist, by post, of having made a mistake. Whatever pains I may have taken to disappoint you, it is quite likely that we may be again indebted to each other on this occasion. So, to our infinite relief on either side, we part friends after all.

W. C.

London: April 1883


Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06