This Work, or rather Collection, which the Public will, perhaps, still find too voluminous, contains but a small part of the correspondence from which it is extracted. Being appointed to arrange it by the persons in whose possession it was, and who, I knew, intended it for publication, I asked, for my sole recompence, the liberty to reject everything that appeared to me useless, and I have endeavoured to preserve only the letters which appeared necessary to illustrate the events, or to unfold the characters. If to this inconsiderable share in the work be added an arrangement of those letters which I have preserved, with a strict attention to dates, and some short annotations, calculated, for the most part, to point out some citations, or to explain some retrenchments I have made, the Public will see the extent of my labours, and the part I have taken in this publication.

I have also changed, or suppressed, the names of the personages, and if, among those I have substituted, any resemblance may be found which might give offence, I beg it may be looked on as an unintentional error.

I proposed farther alterations, as to purity of style and diction, in both which many faults will be found. I could also have wished to have been authorised to shorten some long letters, several of which treat separately, and almost without transition, of objects totally foreign to one another. This liberty, in which I was not indulged, would not have been sufficient to give merit to the work, but would have corrected part of its defects.

It was objected to me, that the intention was to publish the letters themselves, and not a work compiled from the letters; that it would be as distant from probability as truth, that eight or ten persons, who were concerned in this correspondence, should have wrote with equal purity of style:⁠—And on my representing that there was not one which did not abound with essential faults, and was not very open to criticism, I was answered, that every reasonable reader would undoubtedly expect to find faults in a collection of letters of private persons, since among all those hitherto published by authors of the highest reputation, and even some academicians, there are none totally exempt from censure. Those reasons have not convinced me; and I am still of opinion they are easier to give than likely to obtain assent; but I had not my option, and submitted, reserving only the liberty of entering my protest, and declaring my dissent, as I now do.

As to the merit of this work, perhaps it does not become me to touch upon it; my opinion neither can, or ought, to influence anyone. However, as some wish to know something of a book before they take it in hand, those who are so disposed will proceed with this preface⁠—the rest will do better to pass on to the work itself.

Though inclined to publish those letters, I am yet far from thinking they will meet success; and let not this sincere declaration be construed into the affected modesty of an author: for I declare, with the same frankness, that if I had thought this collection an unworthy offering to the Public, it should not have taken up any part of my time.⁠—Let us try to reconcile this apparent contradiction.

The merit of a work consists in its utility, or its agreeableness, and even in both, when it admits of both. But success, which is not always the criterion of merit, often arises more from a choice of subject than the execution, more from the aggregate of the objects presented than the manner of treating them: such a collection as the title announces this to be, being the letters of a whole circle, and containing a diversity of interests, is not likely to fix the attention of the reader. Besides, the sentiments they contain being feigned or dissembled, can only excite an interest of curiosity, always infinitely inferior to that of sentiment, and less disposed to indulgence, as well as more apt to be struck with defects in the narrative, as they are constantly in opposition to the only desire curiosity seeks to gratify. These defects are, perhaps, partly compensated by the quality of the work; I mean the variety of style⁠—A merit which an author seldom attains, but which here presents itself, and prevents, at least, a dull uniformity. Perhaps merit may also be allowed to many observations, either new or little known, which are interspersed through those letters: and this, to pass the most favourable judgment on them, will be found to constitute their best pretension to pleasing.

The utility of the work, which will, perhaps, be more strongly contested, appears more easy to establish: it is at least useful to morality, to lay open the means used by the wicked to seduce the innocent; and those letters will efficaciously concur for so salutary a purpose. There will also be found in them the proof and example of two important truths, which one would be apt to think unknown, seeing how little they are practised: the one, that every woman who admits a bad man to her society, ends with becoming his victim; the other, that every mother is at least imprudent, that suffers any but herself to gain possession of her daughter’s confidence.

Young persons, of both sexes, may also here learn, that the friendship so readily held out to them by people of bad morals, is ever a dangerous snare, equally fatal to their happiness and virtue; yet, abuse or evil always unhappily confining too nearly on good, appears so much to be dreaded in this respect, that far from recommending the perusal of works of this kind to youth, I think it of the utmost importance to keep all such very far from their reach. The time when productions of the nature of the present may be no longer dangerous, but begin to be useful, was fixed by a lady of great good understanding. “I think,” said she to me, after having read the manuscript of this correspondence, “I should render my daughter an essential service in putting this book in her hands on her wedding-day.” Should all mothers think thus, I shall congratulate myself on having published it.

Yet I shall leave this flattering supposition at a distance; and I still think this collection will please but few.⁠—Men and women of depraved minds will take an interest in discountenancing a work that may injure them; and as they are never wasting in ingenuity, they may bring over the whole class of rigorists, who will be alarmed at the picture we have dared to present of profligacy.

The pretenders to free thinking will take no concern in the fate of a devout woman, whom, for that reason, they will not fail to pronounce weak, whilst the devotee will be displeased to see virtue sink under misfortune, and will complain that religion does not sufficiently display its power. On the other hand, persons of a delicate taste will be disgusted with the simplicity and defective style of many of the letters, whilst the generality of readers, led away with the idea that everything that appears in print is a work of labour, will think he sees in some of the other letters the laboured style of an author sufficiently apparent, notwithstanding the disguise he has assumed.

To conclude; it will be pretty generally said, that a thing is little worth out of its place; and that if the too correct style of authors takes off from the gracefulness of miscellaneous letters, negligences in these become real faults, and make them insupportable when consigned to the press.

I sincerely own that those reproaches may have some foundation. I believe also, I might possibly be able to answer them, even without exceeding the length of a preface: but it is clear, that were I to attempt to answer everything, I could do nothing else; and that if I had deemed it requisite to do so, I should at once have suppressed both preface and book.