Pencillings by the Way: Written During Some Years of Residence and Travel in Europe
N. Parker Willis
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A word or two of necessary explanation, dear reader.
I had resided on the Continent for several years, and had been a year in England, without being suspected, I believe, in the societies in which I lived, of any habit of authorship. No production of mine had ever crossed the water, and my Letters to the New-York Mirror, were (for this long period, and I presumed would be forever), as far as European readers were concerned, an unimportant and easy secret. Within a few months of returning to this country, the Quarterly Review came out with a severe criticism on the Pencillings by the Way, published in the New-York Mirror. A London publisher immediately procured a broken set of this paper from an American resident there, and called on me with an offer of £300 for an immediate edition of what he had—rather less than one half of the Letters in this present volume. This chanced on the day before my marriage, and I left immediately for Paris—a literary friend most kindly undertaking to look over the proofs, and suppress what might annoy any one then living in London. The book was printed in three volumes, at about $7 per copy, and in this expensive shape three editions were sold by the original publisher. After his death a duodecimo edition was put forth, very beautifully illustrated; and this has been followed by a fifth edition lately published, with new embellishments, by Mr. Virtue. The only American edition (long ago out of print) was a literal copy of this imperfect and curtailed book.
In the present complete edition, the Letters objected to by the Quarterly, are, like the rest, re-published as originally written. The offending portions must be at any rate, harmless, after being circulated extensively in this country in the Mirror, and prominently quoted from the Mirror in the Quarterly—and this being true, I have felt that I could gratify the wish to be put fairly on trial for these alleged offences—to have a comparison instituted between my sins, in this respect, and Hamilton's, Muskau's, Von Raumer's, Marryat's and Lockhart's—and so, to put a definite value and meaning upon the constant and vague allusions to these iniquities, with which the critiques of my contemporaries abound. I may state as a fact, that the only instance in which a quotation by me from the conversation of distinguished men gave the least offence in England, was the one remark made by Moore the poet at a dinner party, on the subject of O'Connell. It would have been harmless, as it was designed to be, but for the unexpected celebrity of my Pencillings; yet with all my heart I wished it unwritten.
I wish to put on record in this edition (and you need not be at the trouble of perusing them unless you please, dear reader!) an extract or two from the London prefaces to "Pencillings," and parts of two articles written apropos of the book's offences.
The following is from the Preface to the first London edition:—
"The extracts from these Letters which have appeared in the public prints, have drawn upon me much severe censure. Admitting its justice in part, perhaps I may shield myself from its remaining excess by a slight explanation. During several years' residence in Continental and Eastern countries, I have had opportunities (as attaché to a foreign Legation), of seeing phases of society and manners not usually described in books of travel. Having been the Editor, before leaving the United States, of a monthly Review, I found it both profitable and agreeable, to continue my interest in the periodical in which that Review was merged at my departure, by a miscellaneous correspondence. Foreign courts, distinguished men, royal entertainments, &c. &c.,—matters which were likely to interest American readers more particularly—have been in turn my themes. The distance of America from these countries, and the ephemeral nature and usual obscurity of periodical correspondence, were a sufficient warra