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Since, dear Reader, I last addressed thee, in "Paul Clifford," nearly two years have elapsed, and somewhat more than four years since, in "Pelham," our familiarity first began. The Tale which I now submit to thee differs equally from the last as from the first of those works; for of the two evils, perhaps it is even better to disappoint thee in a new style than to weary thee with an old. With the facts on which the tale of "Eugene Aram" is founded, I have exercised the common and fair license of writers of fiction it is chiefly the more homely parts of the real story that have been altered; and for what I have added, and what omitted, I have the sanction of all established authorities, who have taken greater liberties with characters yet more recent, and far more protected by historical recollections. The book was, for the most part, written in the early part of the year, when the interest which the task created in the Author was undivided by other subjects of excitement, and he had leisure enough not only to be 'nescio quid meditans nugarum,' but also to be 'totes in illis.'

I originally intended to adapt the story of Eugene Aram to the Stage. That design was abandoned when more than half completed; but I wished to impart to this Romance something of the nature of Tragedy,—something of the more transferable of its qualities. Enough of this: it is not the Author's wishes, but the Author's books that the world will judge him by. Perhaps, then (with this I conclude), in the dull monotony of public affairs, and in these long winter evenings, when we gather round the fire, prepared for the gossip's tale, willing to indulge the fear and to believe the legend, perhaps, dear Reader, thou mayest turn, not reluctantly, even to these pages, for at least a newer excitement than the Cholera, or for momentary relief from the everlasting discussion on "the Bill." [The year of the Reform Bill.]

LONDON, December 22, 1831.

PREFACE TO THE EDITION OF 1840.

The strange history of Eugene Aram had excited my interest and wonder long before the present work was composed or conceived. It so happened that during Aram's residence at Lynn his reputation for learning had attracted the notice of my grandfather,—a country gentleman living in the same county, and of more intelligence and accomplishments than, at that day, usually characterized his class. Aram frequently visited at Heydon (my grandfather's house), and gave lessons—probably in no very elevated branches of erudition—to the younger members of the family. This I chanced to hear when I was on a visit in Norfolk some two years before this novel was published; and it tended to increase the interest with which I had previously speculated on the phenomena of a trial which, take it altogether, is perhaps the most remarkable in the register of English crime. I endeavored to collect such anecdotes of Aram's life and manners as tradition and hearsay still kept afloat. These anecdotes were so far uniform that they all concurred in representing him as a person who, till the detection of the crime for which he was sentenced, had appeared of the mildest character and the most unexceptionable morals. An invariable gentleness and patience in his mode of tuition—qualities then very uncommon at school—had made him so beloved by his pupils at Lynn that, in after life, there was scarcely one of them who did not persist in the belief of his innocence.

His personal and moral peculiarities, as described in these pages, are such as were related to me by persons who had heard him described by his contemporaries, the calm, benign countenance; the delicate health; the thoughtful stoop; the noiseless step; the custom, not uncommon with scholars and absent men, of muttering to himself; a singular eloquence in conversation, when once roused from silence; an active tenderness and charity to the poor, with whom he was always ready to share his own scanty means; an apparent disregard for money, except when employed in the purchase of books; an utter indifference to the ambition usually accompanying self-taught talent, whether to better the condition or to increase the repute: these, and other traits of the character portrayed in the novel, are, as far as I can rely on my information, faithful to the features of the original.

That a man thus described—so benevolent that he would rob his own necessities to administer to those of another, so humane that he would turn aside from the worm in his path—should have been guilty of the foulest of human crimes, namely, murder for the sake of gain; that a crime thus committed should have been so episodical and apart from the rest of his career that, however it might rankle in his conscience, it should never have hardened his nature; that through a life of some duration, none of the errors, none of the vices, which would seem essentially to belong to a character capable of a deed so black, from motives apparently so sordid, should have been discovered or suspected,—all this presents all anomaly in human conduct so rare and surprising that it would be difficult to find any subject more adapted for that metaphysical speculation and analysis, in order to indulge which, Fiction, whether in the drama or the higher class of romance, seeks its materials and grounds its lessons in the chronicles of passion and crime.

The guilt of Eugene Aram is not that of a vulgar ruffian; it leads to views and considerations vitally and wholly distinct from those with which profligate knavery and brutal cruelty revolt and displease us in the literature of Newgate and the hulks. His crime does, in fact, belong to those startling paradoxes which the poetry of all countries, and especially of our own, has always delighted to contemplate and examine. Whenever crime appears the aberration and monstrous product of a great intellect or of a nature ordinarily virtuous, it becomes not only the subject for genius, which deals with passions, to describe, but a problem for philosophy, which deals with actions, to investigate and solve; hence the Macbeths and Richards, the Iagos and Othellos. My regret, therefore, is not that I chose a subject unworthy of elevated fiction, but that such a subject did not occur to some one capable of treating it as it deserves; and I never felt this more strongly than when the late Mr. Godwin (in conversing with me after the publication of this romance) observed that he had always thought the story of Eugene Aram peculiarly adapted for fiction, and that he had more than once entertained the notion of making it the foundation of a novel. I can well conceive what depth and power that gloomy record would have taken from the dark and inquiring genius of the author of "Caleb Williams." In fact, the crime and trial of Eugene Aram arrested the attention and engaged the conjectures of many of the most eminent men of his own time. His guilt or innocence was the matter of strong contest; and so keen and so enduring was the sensation created by an event thus completely distinct from the ordinary annals of human crime that even History turned aside from the sonorous narrative of the struggles of parties and the feuds of kings to commemorate the learning and the guilt of the humble schoolmaster of Lynn. Did I want any other answer to the animadversions of commonplace criticism, it might be sufficient to say that what the historian relates the novelist has little right to disdain.

Before entering on this romance, I examined with some care the probabilities of Aram's guilt; for I need scarcely perhaps observe that the legal evidence against him is extremely deficient,—furnished almost entirely by one (Houseman) confessedly an accomplice of the crime and a partner in the booty, and that in the present day a man tried upon evidence so scanty and suspicious would unquestionably escape conviction. Nevertheless, I must frankly own that the moral evidence appeared to me more convincing than the legal; and though not without some doubt, which, in common with many, I still entertain of the real facts of the murder, I adopted that view which, at all events, was the best suited to the higher purposes of fiction. On the whole, I still think that if the crime were committed by Aram, the motive was not very far removed from one which led recently to a remarkable murder in Spain. A priest in that country, wholly absorbed in learned pursuits, and apparently of spotless life, confessed that, being debarred by extreme poverty from prosecuting a study which had become the sole passion of his existence, he had reasoned himself into the belief that it would be admissible to rob a very dissolute, worthless man if he applied the money so obtained to the acquisition of a knowledge which he could not otherwise acquire, and which he held to be profitable to mankind. Unfortunately, the dissolute rich man was not willing to be robbed for so excellent a purpose; he was armed and he resisted. A struggle ensued, and the crime of homicide was added to that of robbery. The robbery was premeditated; the murder was accidental. But he who would accept some similar interpretation of Aram's crime must, to comprehend fully the lessons which belong to so terrible a picture of frenzy and guilt, consider also the physical circumstances and condition of the criminal at the time,—severe illness, intense labor of the brain, poverty bordering upon famine, the mind preternaturally at work devising schemes and excuses to arrive at the means for ends ardently desired. And all this duly considered, the reader may see the crime bodying itself out from the shades and chimeras of a horrible hallucination,—the awful dream of a brief but delirious and convulsed disease. It is thus only that we can account for the contradiction of one deed at war with a whole life,—blasting, indeed, forever the happiness, but making little revolution in the pursuits and disposition of the character. No one who has examined with care and thoughtfulness the aspects of Life and Nature but must allow that in the contemplation of such a spectacle, great and most moral truths must force themselves on the notice and sink deep into the heart. The entanglements of human reasoning; the influence of circumstance upon deeds; the perversion that may be made, by one self-palter with the Fiend, of elements the most glorious; the secret effect of conscience in frustrating all for which the crime was done, leaving genius without hope, knowledge without fruit, deadening benevolence into mechanism, tainting love itself with terror and suspicion,—such reflections (leading, with subtler minds, to many more vast and complicated theorems in the consideration of our nature, social and individual) arise out of the tragic moral which the story of Eugene Aram (were it but adequately treated) could not fail to convey.

BRUSSELS, August, 1840.

PREFACE TO THE PRESENT EDITION.

If none of my prose works have been so attacked as "Eugene Aram," none have so completely triumphed over attack. It is true that, whether from real or affected ignorance of the true morality of fiction, a few critics may still reiterate the old commonplace charges of "selecting heroes from Newgate," or "investing murderers with interest;" but the firm hold which the work has established in the opinion of the general public, and the favor it has received in every country where English literature is known, suffice to prove that, whatever its faults, it belongs to that legitimate class of fiction which illustrates life and truth, and only deals with crime as the recognized agency of pity and terror in the conduct of tragic narrative. All that I would say further on this score has been said in the general defence of my writings which I put forth two years ago; and I ask the indulgence of the reader if I repeat myself:—

In point of composition "Eugene Aram" is, I think, entitled to rank amongst the best of my fictions. It somewhat humiliates me to acknowledge that neither practice nor study has enabled me to surpass a work written at a very early age, in the skilful construction and patient development of plot; and though I have since sought to call forth higher and more subtle passions, I doubt if I have ever excited the two elementary passions of tragedy,—namely, pity and terror,—to the same degree. In mere style, too, "Eugene Aram," in spite of certain verbal oversights, and defects in youthful taste (some of which I have endeavored to remove from the present edition), appears to me unexcelled by any of my later writings,—at least in what I have always studied as the main essential of style in narrative; namely, its harmony with the subject selected and the passions to be moved,—while it exceeds them all in the minuteness and fidelity of its descriptions of external nature. This indeed it ought to do, since the study of external nature is made a peculiar attribute of the principal character, whose fate colors the narrative. I do not know whether it has been observed that the time occupied by the events of the story is conveyed through the medium of such descriptions. Each description is introduced, not for its own sake, but to serve as a calendar marking the gradual changes of the seasons as they bear on to his doom the guilty worshipper of Nature. And in this conception, and in the care with which it has been followed out, I recognize one of my earliest but most successful attempts at the subtler principles of narrative art.

In this edition I have made one alteration somewhat more important than mere verbal correction. On going, with maturer judgment, over all the evidences on which Aram was condemned, I have convinced myself that though an accomplice in the robbery of Clarke, he was free both from the premeditated design and the actual deed of murder. The crime, indeed, would still rest on his conscience and insure his punishment, as necessarily incidental to the robbery in which he was an accomplice, with Houseman; but finding my convictions, that in the murder itself he had no share, borne out by the opinion of many eminent lawyers by whom I have heard the subject discussed, I have accordingly so shaped his confession to Walter.

Perhaps it will not be without interest to the reader if I append to this preface an authentic specimen of Eugene Aram's composition, for which I am indebted to the courtesy of a gentleman by whose grandfather it was received, with other papers (especially a remarkable "Outline of a New Lexicon"), during Aram's confinement in York prison. The essay I select is, indeed, not without value in itself as a very curious and learned illustration of Popular Antiquities, and it serves also to show not only the comprehensive nature of Aram's studies and the inquisitive eagerness of his mind, but also the fact that he was completely self-taught; for in contrast to much philological erudition, and to passages that evince considerable mastery in the higher resources of language, we may occasionally notice those lesser inaccuracies from which the writings of men solely self-educated are rarely free,—indeed Aram himself, in sending to a gentleman an elegy on Sir John Armitage, which shows much, but undisciplined, power of versification, says, "I send this elegy, which, indeed, if you had not had the curiosity to desire, I could not have had the assurance to offer, scarce believing I, who was hardly taught to read, have any abilities to write."

These rural entertainments and usages were formerly more general all over England than they are at present, being become by time, necessity, or avarice, complex, confined, and altered. They are commonly insisted upon by the reapers as customary things, and a part of their due for the toils of the harvest, and complied with by their masters perhaps more through regards of interest than inclination; for should they refuse them the pleasures of this much-expected time, this festal night, the youth especially, of both sexes would decline serving them for the future, and employ their labors for others, who would promise them the rustic joys of the harvest-supper, mirth and music, dance and song. These feasts appear to be the relics of Pagan ceremonies or of Judaism, it is hard to say which, and carry in them more meaning and are of far higher antiquity than is generally apprehended. It is true the subject is more curious than important, and I believe altogether untouched; and as it seems to be little understood, has been as little adverted to. I do not remember it to have been so much as the subject of a conversation. Let us make, then, a little excursion into this field, for the same reason men sometimes take a walk. Its traces are discoverable at a very great distance of time from ours,—nay, seem as old as a sense of joy for the benefit of plentiful harvests and human gratitude to the eternal Creator for His munificence to men. We hear it under various names in different counties, and often in the same county; as, "melsupper," "churn-supper," "harvest-supper," "harvest-home," "feast of in-gathering," etc. And perhaps this feast had been long observed, and by different tribes of people, before it became preceptive with the Jews. However, let that be as it will, the custom very lucidly appears from the following passages of S. S., Exod. xxii, "And the feast of harvest, the first-fruits of thy labors, which thou hast sown in the field." And its institution as a sacred rite is commanded in Levit. xxii: "When ye have gathered in the fruit of the land ye shall keep a feast to the Lord."

The Jews then, as is evident from hence, celebrated the feast of harvest, and that by precept; and though no vestiges of any such feast either are or can be produced before these, yet the oblation of the Primitae, of which this feast was a consequence, is met with prior to this, for we find that "Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to the Lord" (Gen. i.

Yet this offering of the first-fruits, it may well be supposed was not peculiar to the Jews either at the time of, or after, its establishment by their legislator; neither the feast in consequence of it. Many other nations, either in imitation of the Jews, or rather by tradition from their several patriarchs, observed the rite of offering their Primitiae, and of solemnizing a festival after it, in religious acknowledgment for the blessing of harvest, though that acknowledgment was ignorantly misapplied in being directed to a secondary, not the primary, fountain of this benefit,—namely to Apollo, or the Sun.

For Callimachus affirms that these Primitiae were sent by the people of every nation to the temple of Apollo in Delos, the most distant that enjoyed the happiness of corn and harvest, even by the Hyperboreans in particular,—Hymn to Apol., "Bring the sacred sheafs and the mystic offerings."

Herodotus also mentions this annual custom of the Hyperboreans, remarking that those of Delos talk of "Holy things tied up in sheaf of wheat conveyed from the Hyperboreans." And the Jews, by the command of their law, offered also a sheaf: "And shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the first-fruits of the harvest unto the priest."

This is not introduced in proof of any feast observed by the people who had harvests, but to show the universality of the custom of offering the Primitiae, which preceded this feast. But yet it maybe looked upon as equivalent to a proof; for as the offering and the feast appear to have been always and intimately connected in countries affording records, so it is more than probable they were connected too in countries which had none, or none that ever survived to our times. An entertainment and gayety were still the concomitants of these rites, which with the vulgar, one may pretty truly suppose, were esteemed the most acceptable and material part of them, and a great reason of their having subsisted through such a length of ages, when both the populace and many of the learned too have lost sight of the object to which they had been originally directed. This, among many other ceremonies of the heathen worship, became disused in some places and retained in others, but still continued declining after the promulgation of the Gospel. In short, there seems great reason to conclude that this feast, which was once sacred to Apollo, was constantly maintained, when a far less valuable circumstance,—i.e., "shouting the churn,"—is observed to this day by the reapers, and from so old an era; for we read of this exclamation, Isa. xv: "For the shouting for thy summer fruits and for thy harvest is fallen;" and again, ve: "And in the vineyards there shall be no singing, their shouting shall be no shouting." Hence then, or from some of the Phoenician colonies, is our traditionary "shouting the churn." But it seems these Orientals shouted both for joy of their harvest of grapes and of corn. We have no quantity of the first to occasion so much joy as does our plenty of the last; and I do not remember to have heard whether their vintages abroad are attended with this custom. Bread or cakes compose part of the Hebrew offering (Levit. xxii, and a cake thrown upon the head of the victim was also part of the Greek offering to Apollo (see Hom., Il., a), whose worship was formerly celebrated in Britain, where the May-pole yet continues one remain of it. This they adorned with garlands on May-day, to welcome the approach of Apollo, or the Sun, towards the North, and to signify that those flowers were the product of his presence and influence. But upon the progress of Christianity, as was observed above, Apollo lost his divinity again, and the adoration of his deity subsided by degrees. Yet so permanent is custom that this rite of the harvest-supper, together with that of the May-pole (of which last see Voss. de Orig. and Prag. Idolatr., 1, 2), have been preserved in Britain; and what had been anciently offered to the god, the reapers as prudently ate up themselves.

At last the use of the meal of the new corn was neglected, and the supper, so far as meal was concerned, was made indifferently of old or new corn, as was most agreeable to the founder. And here the usage itself accounts for the name of "Melsupper" (where mel signifies meal, or else the instrument called with us a "Mell," wherewith antiquity reduced their corn to meal in a mortar, which still amounts to the same thing); for provisions of meal, or of corn in furmety, etc., composed by far the greatest part in these elder and country entertainments, perfectly conformable to the simplicity of those times, places, and persons, however meanly they may now be looked upon. And as the harvest was last concluded with several preparations of meal, or brought to be ready for the "mell," this term became, in a translated signification, to mean the last of other things; as, when a horse comes last in the race, they often say in the North, "He has got the mell."

All the other names of this country festivity sufficiently explain themselves, except "Churn-supper;" and this is entirely different from "Melsupper:" but they generally happen so near together that they are frequently confounded. The "Churn-supper" was always provided when all was shorn, but the "Melsupper" after all was got in. And it was called the "Churn-supper" because, from immemorial times, it was customary to produce in a churn a great quantity of cream, and to circulate it by dishfuls to each of the rustic company, to be eaten with bread. And here sometimes very extraordinary execution has been done upon cream. And though this custom has been disused in many places, and agreeably commuted for by ale, yet it survives still, and that about Whitby and Scarborough in the East, and round about Gisburn, etc., in Craven, in the West. But perhaps a century or two more will put an end to it, and both the thing and name shall die. Vicarious ale is now more approved, and the tankard almost everywhere politely preferred to the Churn.

This Churn (in our provincial pronunciation Kern) is the Hebrew Kern, or Keren, from its being circular, like most horns; and it is the Latin 'corona',—named so either from 'radii', resembling horns, as on some very ancient coins, or from its encircling the head: so a ring of people is called corona. Also the Celtic Koren, Keren, or corn, which continues according to its old pronunciation in Cornwall, etc., and our modern word horn is no more than this; the ancient hard sound of k in corn being softened into the aspirate h, as has been done in numberless instances.

The Irish Celtae also called a round stone 'clogh crene', where the variation is merely dialectic. Hence, too, our crane-berries,—i.e., round berries,—from this Celtic adjective 'crene', round.

The quotations from Scripture in Aram's original MS. were both in the Hebrew character, and their value in English sounds.