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The Cynosure

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Godwin's Account of the Novel

Volume One
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six


    The following narrative is intended to answer a purpose, more general and important than immediately appears upon the face of it. The question now afloat in the world respecting THINGS AS THEY ARE, is the most interesting that can be presented to the human mind. While one party pleads for reformation and change, the other extols, m the warmest terms, the existing constitution of society. It seemed as if something would be gained for the decision of this question, if that constitution were faithfully developed in its practical effects. What is now presented to the public, is no refined and abstract speculation; it is a study and delineation of things passing in the moral world. It is but of late that the inestimable importance of political principles has been adequately apprehended. It is now known to philosophers, that the spirit and character of the government intrudes itself into every rank of society. But this is a truth, highly worthy to be communicated, to persons, whom books of philosophy and science ar e never likely to reach. Accordingly it was proposed, in the invention of the following work, to comprehend, as far as the progressive nature of a single story would allow, a general review of the modes of domestic and unrecorded despotism, by which man becomes the destroyer of man. If the author shall have taught a valuable lesson, without subtracting from the interest and passion, by which a performance of this sort ought to be characterized, he will have reason to congratulate himself upon the vehicle he has chosen.

May 12, 1794.

     This preface was withdrawn in the original edition, in compliance with the alarms of booksellers. Caleb Williams made his first appearance in the world, in the same month in which the sanguinary

     plot broke out against the liberties of Englishmen, which was happily terminated, by the acquittal of its first intended victims, in the close of the year. Terror was the order of the day; and it was feared that even the humble novelist might be shown to be constructively a traitor.

October 29, 1795


     This novel was first published in May, 1794, thirty-seven years ago, "in the same month in which the sanguinary plot broke out against the liberties of Englishmen, which was happily terminated by the acquittal of its first intended victims [Thomas Hardy, John Horne Tooke, Thomas Holcroft, &c.], in the close of that year." (See above, 1795 Preface). Every friend of the true interests of mankind will rejoice with the author, that the prospects of the cause of liberty and sound thinking have so greatly improved since that period.

April, 1831.


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