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I HAVE a thousand fears for the reception of these tales. The first of them, 'Sterling,' may possibly not be disrelished by those who are interested by pictures of the mind or heart strongly affected, or struggling under any great bias or passion. There are many Sterlings in the world, and the view taken of them therefore may possibly engage
I am not so sanguine as to the other two, 'Penruddock' and 'Rheindorf,' although the former pretends, mirabile dictu, to something like a romantic, as well as a didactic character.
It is, however, about 'Rheindorf' that I am most fearful, for I am quite alive to the danger of founding a long discussion of political ethics (particularly as demonstrated by the French Revolution), upon a tale of fiction. The events, also, of that revolution have so often been spread in detail before the world, in all its thousand shapes-so often been examined, questioned, and quoted, as it served to illustrate particular lines of argument, that its very name may probably fill men with affright, and deter them from even approaching the subject.
Great part, therefore, of the discussions must necessarily appear dry, even in these days of political contest; and, by those who seek only amusement, will probably be left unread. And yet, if the object of this sort of writing is to instruct as well as amuse; if, in the language of the author's motto,
"Aut prodesse volunt aut delectare poetæ,"
those to whom political questions are of interest; who have imbibed strong governing principles of
public conduct founded upon facts, or notions of the character of certain events, and certain actors in history, which may be contested, according to the views taken of them by different parties, such persons may excuse a little labour for the sake of the object, and if they begin to read, may perhaps read on. Doctrines of importance to the well-being of states, and the conduct of statesmen, will not surely be less attracting because conveyed by supposed speaking characters under a dramatic form, than in a shape purely didactic; possibly (though that must depend upon the execution) they may be more attracting. Religion has found favour though conveyed in dialogues of fiction; then why not political disquisition?
But even the supposed threadbare subject of the French Revolution is not so exhausted, but that lights, seemingly new, are often appearing above the horizon. How many years was Brissot thought an honest, though mistaken man, even by those who blamed him in and out of France? How many
elapsed before Dumont showed him in his true colours? How few have even now read Dumont ? How fewer still are those who have reasoned upon his report of him, as Winter reasons in the following pages, in order to clear a warm young mind from an inveterate prejudice?
Should the subject, therefore, be thought not out of its place, by being engrafted on a work of imagination, it may be hoped that a comment on even so old a theme may not be without its use. Old subjects indeed, may, be made new, by the consequences deduced from them: witness the thousand able commentaries of modern times, upon questions thought to be worn out.
That I may not, however, be guilty of a sort of literary suicide, by thus before its time letting the reader into what may be thought insuperable faults, let me hope that the heavy weight of an old political discussion is not to be feared throughout the story, but that there may be parts in it which, although they may not by many be thought to