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1556 May 20
Gift of foegin dugustus flight
of class 1556
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1834,
By HARPER & BROTHERS,
INTRODUCTORY AND EXEGETICAL.
THOUGH the first of the book, the preface is usually the last written, and generally the last ready--if, indeed, it be read at all. But the author is supposed to be profoundly ignorant of this fact. The consequence is, that, wishing to appear decently well at the outset, he labours upon the introduction, with a view of making it the best part of the work, until, in most instances, he leaves it the worst. As Lord Byron somewhere says—in poetry, instead of prose, by-the-way—“When he would be very fine, he knew not what the mischief he'd be at." I shall make no effort in this way, however, but speak my exordium with all plainness and compatible brevity.
If the most wise and illustrious of ancient princes had reason deploringly to exclaim, “Of making many books there is no end," and this, too, a thousand years before the Christian era; and if even so late as three hundred years ago, old father Burton was made feelingly to sigh over “ a vast chaos and confusion of books, making the eyes ache with reading, and the fingers with turning ;" with what unspeakable amazement would those excellent personages have looked the present book-making epoch in the world's history! “And why
add to the number?" methinks some cynical or captious friend will inquire. My reply is brief: simply because I am " in the humour on't.” Everybody makes books now-a-days, and one does not care to be singular. And besides, where is the harm? Should it contain no unsound principles, or loose morality, no positive evil can arise from it.--certainly nothing beyond the loss of a little time,--and if it be dull and stupid, it will be thrown aside ; so that, in fact, nothing will be lost upon that score.
One of Solomon's objections to “the making of many books," seems to have arisen from the fact which he asserts immediately afterwards, that "much study is a weariness of the flesh.” But with all his wisdom, the Hebrew monarch seemed little aware of the facility with which the article would be manufactured in these latter days.
Were the present volumes worthy of the distinction, the writer would have inscribed them to his estimable and valued friend, HENRY DUNN, Esq. of London, Secretary of the British and Foreign School Society. In the year 1828, that gentleman, with his lady, spent several months in this city, while on their return to England from Guatemala. It was the author's happiness to be much in their society. They manifested a lively interest in studying the American character, particularly the peculiar traits of the earlier New-Englanders, and of our aboriginals. Indeed, but for the conversations held with Mr. Dunn, the tales and sketches-traditional and otherwise--comprised in these volumes, would probably never have been written. Several of them have already been published, either in the English, or the American
Annuals,--but they are none the worse for that circumstance, since, although everybody buys the Annuals, it is said that nobody reads them. They only look at the binding and the pictures. As to quantity, however, the greater portion of the present volumes has not before seen the light. The two principal stories, “Mercy Disborough,” and “ The Mysterious Bridal,” are intended as illustrations of New-England character and manners, at different, though somewhat distant periods of the history of that noble section of our country. Those who have studied the “ Magnalia Christi Americana" of the learned and laborious Cotton Mather, will perceive that the author also has looked into that valuable repository of New England lore. It will likewise be seen that he has perused Stiles's History of the Regicide Judges. That most learned and amusing of melancholy writers, already referred to above, Burton, speaking of those who " lard their lean books with the fat of others' works,” ingenuously inquires, “ If the severe doom of Synesius be true, that it is a greater offence to steal dead men's labours than their clothes, what shall become of most writers ? Thus we weave the same web still,
-twist the same rope again and again,-as a good housewife out of 'divers fleeces weaves one piece of cloth, a bee gathers wax and honey out of many flowers, and makes a new bundle of all. Or, if it be a new invention, 'tis but some bauble or toy, which idle fellows write, for as idle fellows to read. And who cannot invent?' He must have a barren wit that in this scribbling age can forge nothing." But, unless with the exception of a portion of the inscription which concludes the first tale, the writer is conscious of having taken no