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Barnaby Rudge - Preface Post by :4imarketing Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dickens Date :December 2010 Read :2784

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Barnaby Rudge - Preface

PREFACE


The late Mr Waterton having, some time ago, expressed his opinion
that ravens are gradually becoming extinct in England, I offered
the few following words about my experience of these birds.

The raven in this story is a compound of two great originals, of
whom I was, at different times, the proud possessor. The first was
in the bloom of his youth, when he was discovered in a modest
retirement in London, by a friend of mine, and given to me. He had
from the first, as Sir Hugh Evans says of Anne Page, 'good gifts',
which he improved by study and attention in a most exemplary
manner. He slept in a stable--generally on horseback--and so
terrified a Newfoundland dog by his preternatural sagacity, that he
has been known, by the mere superiority of his genius, to walk off
unmolested with the dog's dinner, from before his face. He was
rapidly rising in acquirements and virtues, when, in an evil hour,
his stable was newly painted. He observed the workmen closely,
saw that they were careful of the paint, and immediately burned to
possess it. On their going to dinner, he ate up all they had left
behind, consisting of a pound or two of white lead; and this
youthful indiscretion terminated in death.

While I was yet inconsolable for his loss, another friend of mine
in Yorkshire discovered an older and more gifted raven at a village
public-house, which he prevailed upon the landlord to part with for
a consideration, and sent up to me. The first act of this Sage,
was, to administer to the effects of his predecessor, by
disinterring all the cheese and halfpence he had buried in the
garden--a work of immense labour and research, to which he devoted
all the energies of his mind. When he had achieved this task, he
applied himself to the acquisition of stable language, in which he
soon became such an adept, that he would perch outside my window
and drive imaginary horses with great skill, all day. Perhaps
even I never saw him at his best, for his former master sent his
duty with him, 'and if I wished the bird to come out very strong,
would I be so good as to show him a drunken man'--which I never
did, having (unfortunately) none but sober people at hand.

But I could hardly have respected him more, whatever the
stimulating influences of this sight might have been. He had not
the least respect, I am sorry to say, for me in return, or for
anybody but the cook; to whom he was attached--but only, I fear, as
a Policeman might have been. Once, I met him unexpectedly, about
half-a-mile from my house, walking down the middle of a public
street, attended by a pretty large crowd, and spontaneously
exhibiting the whole of his accomplishments. His gravity under
those trying circumstances, I can never forget, nor the
extraordinary gallantry with which, refusing to be brought home, he
defended himself behind a pump, until overpowered by numbers. It
may have been that he was too bright a genius to live long, or it
may have been that he took some pernicious substance into his bill,
and thence into his maw--which is not improbable, seeing that he
new-pointed the greater part of the garden-wall by digging out the
mortar, broke countless squares of glass by scraping away the putty
all round the frames, and tore up and swallowed, in splinters, the
greater part of a wooden staircase of six steps and a landing--but
after some three years he too was taken ill, and died before the
kitchen fire. He kept his eye to the last upon the meat as it
roasted, and suddenly. turned over on his back with a sepulchral
cry of 'Cuckoo!' Since then I have been ravenless.

No account of the Gordon Riots having been to my knowledge
introduced into any Work of Fiction, and the subject presenting
very extraordinary and remarkable features, I was led to project
this Tale.

It is unnecessary to say, that those shameful tumults, while they
reflect indelible disgrace upon the time in which they occurred,
and all who had act or part in them, teach a good lesson. That
what we falsely call a religious cry is easily raised by men who
have no religion, and who in their daily practice set at nought the
commonest principles of right and wrong; that it is begotten of
intolerance and persecution; that it is senseless, besotted,
inveterate and unmerciful; all History teaches us. But perhaps we
do not know it in our hearts too well, to profit by even so humble
an example as the 'No Popery' riots of Seventeen Hundred and Eighty.

However imperfectly those disturbances are set forth in the
following pages, they are impartially painted by one who has no
sympathy with the Romish Church, though he acknowledges, as most
men do, some esteemed friends among the followers of its creed.

In the description of the principal outrages, reference has been
had to the best authorities of that time, such as they are; the
account given in this Tale, of all the main features of the Riots,
is substantially correct.

Mr Dennis's allusions to the flourishing condition of his trade in
those days, have their foundation in Truth, and not in the
Author's fancy. Any file of old Newspapers, or odd volume of the
Annual Register, will prove this with terrible ease.

Even the case of Mary Jones, dwelt upon with so much pleasure by
the same character, is no effort of invention. The facts were
stated, exactly as they are stated here, in the House of Commons.
Whether they afforded as much entertainment to the merry gentlemen
assembled there, as some other most affecting circumstances of a
similar nature mentioned by Sir Samuel Romilly, is not recorded.

That the case of Mary Jones may speak the more emphatically for
itself, I subjoin it, as related by SIR WILLIAM MEREDITH in a
speech in Parliament, 'on Frequent Executions', made in 1777.

'Under this act,' the Shop-lifting Act, 'one Mary Jones was
executed, whose case I shall just mention; it was at the time when
press warrants were issued, on the alarm about Falkland Islands.
The woman's husband was pressed, their goods seized for some debts
of his, and she, with two small children, turned into the streets
a-begging. It is a circumstance not to be forgotten, that she was
very young (under nineteen), and most remarkably handsome. She
went to a linen-draper's shop, took some coarse linen off the
counter, and slipped it under her cloak; the shopman saw her, and
she laid it down: for this she was hanged. Her defence was (I have
the trial in my pocket), "that she had lived in credit, and wanted
for nothing, till a press-gang came and stole her husband from her;
but since then, she had no bed to lie on; nothing to give her
children to eat; and they were almost naked; and perhaps she might
have done something wrong, for she hardly knew what she did." The
parish officers testified the truth of this story; but it seems,
there had been a good deal of shop-lifting about Ludgate; an
example was thought necessary; and this woman was hanged for the
comfort and satisfaction of shopkeepers in Ludgate Street. When
brought to receive sentence, she behaved in such a frantic manner,
as proved her mind to he in a distracted and desponding state; and
the child was sucking at her breast when she set out for Tyburn.'

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