[from 'The Manxman' 1894]
[note - this preface was to first cheap edition 1903]
UNLIKE certain other novels of mine, " The Manxman " has not hitherto been issued in a popular form. As a six-shilling volume it has always been out of the reach of a large section of the reading public, except through the medium of the lending library. In that channel its popularity appears to have been considerable, and the accident that it was the first book to challenge with success the old unnatural practice of publishing novels in three volumes gave it a certain vogue which seems to have carried it far. But down to this moment it is not in any real sense a people's story, and in publishing " The Manxman " in a cheap edition the publisher is putting it for the first time within the reach of that wide public of general readers to whom it is my pride and privilege to appeal.
No work of mine has made me more friends, and to none of my, books do I owe more gratitude for its efect on my own life. It brought me back to the Isle of Man as the permanent home of nay family, and the interest and happiness of the relation that has ensued between the Manx people and myself is a bond which I trust no act of mine may break. In an earlier novel, "The Deemster," I had been content to regard the Isle of Man merely as the stage for the exhibition of vast human passions to which some scene was inevitable, yet almost any scene was possible if only it was vague or remote; but in " The Manxman " I tried to come down to the soil of our little island, to picture the types it produces, and to bring to the nostrils of the stranger the very smell of the peat. That I have done this in some measure for English people generally is a hope I try to cherish, and among the joys which "The Manxman " has brought me, not the least is the assurance that it has helped me to win the heart of the great English nation which is American for the little English nation which is Manx.
But while " The Manxman " has brought me many generous tributes during the few years of its short life, it has brought me certain angry protests also, and two of them are serious enough to merit a few words of reply in this place. It has been said that an important section of the novel is intended to be a travesty of Methodism, and that one of its characters is meant to be a satire on a large and most excellent class.
I disclaim any such intention. It is true that the picture here presented of a lay preacher is compounded of many qualities, most of them unworthy ones, but Caesar Cregren has failed as apiece of portraiture if his grim and honest, if self-deluded, sincerity does not leave a deeper impression than is made by his half-conscious hypocrisy. That he is true to life I know, that he reflects. a type I believe ; but that he is intended as a caricature of lay preachers generally I entirely deny. I have too strong an admiration of that finest element in the success of Methodism, the element of lay help, to try to hold it up to ridicule or contempt, and I have too deep a sense of the dignity and strength of Nonconformity (perhaps the mightiest force in Great Britain at this hour) to attempt to discredit it in the person of one of its grotesque products.
The other objection urged against " The Manxman" is at once wider in its range and more serious in its subject, namely, that it pre sents one incident that is not of moral influence. I shall not easily forget the moment when I was first conscious of an accusation with which, unhappily, my later books have made me only too familiar. The restless hours, the sleepless nights, the questioning and cross-questioning of my own conscience which had to be gone through before I satisfied myself that there was no just ground for the charge, have left a vivid and painful memory. In the end, however, I had no misgivings about the moral tendency of my book, and I have none now, when I am offering it to a wider and perhaps more simple-hearted and impressionable public than it has ever had before. That one incident of this story deals with sin and the consequences of sin is indeed true, but vice is not depicted as virtue, and no delusive glamour or false colour is employed to disguise the true, nature and effect of a great transgression. That an appeal to the passions against the laws of life, however ex- cusable, is always culpable, leading far beyond the first offence to the depths of deceit, the degradation of duplicity and the taint of treachery is the lesson intended to be taught by this book, and that I take to be a moral lesson such as may fairly be expected to do some readers some good. In telling the story of the transgression of two children of sorrow, I was mainly conscious of the inherent cruelty of the position of woman in the order of Nature itself, and I could only feel a deep pity for the poor girl who is driven to an effort to hold on to the man whom life is tearing away from her by making a mistaken appeal to his love. That this blind error, so human, so pitiable, and so pardonable, is the real cause of half the lapses which lead to disgrace and destruction I confidently believe, and my picture will do the world no harm if it prompts the reader to look upon the victims of a natural tragedy with a larger charity, and by helping to open up a wider sphere for women as separate beings, to defeat the cruelty of one of the hardest of the laws of life.
But it is not chiefly on this interest, however natural it may be, that the publisher must rely in presenting " The Manxman " to its new readers. The public that consists of the general body of the people is not so much moved by sympathy for the characters that require their pity as stirred by love for those that command their admiration. Not human nature as it is, but as it might be, is the quest of true-hearted natures all the world over and all the ages through, and I am happy to feel that this beautiful craving for the good and noble has been grabed in a small measure by one of the characters of this book. The man who suffers most and forgives most; the man who, having set out to accomplish what he conceives to be a just revenge, sees at length that circumstances have been more at fault than evil purposes, that his enemy has something to say for himself, and his false love has her true defence ; the man who, in the toils of his temptation, realises that he alone is the person in the way, and therefore wipes himself out in order that the woman he loves may be happy-this is a character which it was very easy to depict to the satisfaction of the reader, because it was so near to the heart of the writer. As far as I am able to judge, Pete Quilliam has won more love for me than any other of the children of my fancy except, perhaps, one woman. " If there is one Pete left in the Isle of Man," wrote Lord Rosebery, " I will visit it without delay." It is my confident belief that there are many Petes, both here and elsewhere; and because I feel that potentially the good and true and noble are in all men, and that this is why we wish to see ourselves not as we are but as we might be, I look forward with interest and hope (not unmixed with a little anxiety) to the verdict of that great and generous audience to which I now present my rough and rugged Manxman.
ISLE OF MAN, March, 1903.
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
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