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Changing Modes, 1914

July 2024
1min read

Complaints about changing outlooks, of course, have been with us always. One rather charming one is this short preface that the once-famous American novelist, Winston Churchill, wrote in 1914 for a new edition of his excellent historical novel, Richard Carvel .

After fifteen years of reprinting, the plates of Richard Carvel have worn out. My publishers are suggesting that I write a brief introduction for the new plates. There is still, strangely enough, a demand for the book. And the question is, how to account for the demand? For Richard Carvel must plead guilty, I suppose, to the gravest of all charges in these days—of being mid-Victorian. It was first published in 1899, when mid-Victorianism was already quite out of date.

The only justification I can offer is that when I wrote it I did not know what mid-Victorianism meant. No psychology, no sociology or economics, no philosophy, no realism, idealism or pragmatism troubled my soul, or the souls of many of my fellow countrymen. Some will say, doubtless, that this was a blessed state. The subjective process had not begun with most of us. Patriotism was- patriotism. Arms and the man! Villains were villains, and not trusts. Religion was religion, and dwelt in amity beside enlightened self-interest. The course of true love, after much turning and twisting and tumbling, fell into the lake of marital bliss. Ladies had not begun to plant bombs in St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the trial-and-error method of discovering suitable husbands was not in general vogue. In short, the pursuit of happiness had not become a riot.

There were those who found the world a bad place, who had their troubles. There were those who lay helpless on beds of pain. These, alas! still exist. Some of them wrote to me, and still write. They find Richard Carvel an escape: temporary, but still an escape. They like to think that there is still some joy in the world, though they somehow have missed it, albeit that joy is only in a book of fiction. Well, strange as it may seem, I have known happy marriages in which the spark of love miraculously lived after the marriage ceremony. I would testify to this under oath. And only the other day, in this twentieth century, I met a villain. He had a good side, undoubtedly, but nobody had helped him to develop it. The church had not affected him. But I forget. I have no business, in 1914, to be using the words “good” and “bad.” We have left all that behind us. …

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