Heart and Science


Wilkie Collins

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Heart and Science

A Story of the Present Time

Wilkie Collins

by Wilkie Collins

Heart and Science: A Story of the Present Time










You are the children of Old Mother England, on both sides of the Atlantic; you form the majority of buyers and borrowers of novels; and you judge of works of fiction by certain inbred preferences, which but slightly influence the other great public of readers on the continent of Europe.

The two qualities in fiction which hold the highest rank in your estimation are: Character and Humour. Incident and dramatic situation only occupy the second place in your favour. A novel that tells no story, or that blunders perpetually in trying to tell a story--a novel so entirely devoid of all sense of the dramatic side of human life, that not even a theatrical thief can find anything in it to steal--will nevertheless be a work that wins (and keeps) your admiration, if it has Humour which dwells on your memory, and characters which enlarge the circle of your friends.

I have myself always tried to combine the different merits of a good novel, in one and the same work; and I have never succeeded in keeping an equal balance. In the present story you will find the scales inclining, on the whole, in favour of character and Humour. This has not happened accidentally.

Advancing years, and health that stands sadly in need of improvement, warn me--if I am to vary my way of work--that I may have little time to lose. Without waiting for future opportunities, I have kept your standard of merit more constantly before my mind, in writing this book, than on some former occasions.

Still persisting in telling you a story--still refusing to get up in the pulpit and preach, or to invade the platform and lecture, or to take you by the buttonhole in confidence and make fun of my Art--it has been my chief effort to draw the characters with a vigour and breadth of treatment, derived from the nearest and truest view that I could get of the one model, Nature. Whether I shall at once succeed in adding to the circle of your friends in the world of fiction--or whether you will hurry through the narrative, and only discover on a later reading that it is the characters which have interested you in the story--remains to be seen. Either way, your sympathy will find me grateful; for, either way, my motive has been to please you.

During its periodical publication correspondents, noting certain passages in "Heart and Science," inquired how I came to think of writing this book. The question may be readily answered in better words than mine. My book has been written in harmony with opinions which have an indisputable claim to respect. Let them speak for themselves.

SHAKESPEARE'S OPINION.--"It was always yet the trick of our English nation, if they have a good thing, to make it too common." (King Henry IV., Part II.)

WALTER SCOTT'S OPINION--"I am no great believer in the extreme degree of improvement to be derived from the advancement of Science; for every study of that nature tends, when pushed to a certain extent, to harden the heart." (Letter to Miss Edgeworth.)

FARADAY'S OPINION.--"The education of the judgment has for its first and its last step--Humility." (Lecture on Mental Education, at the Royal Institution.)

Having given my reasons for writing the book, let me conclude by telling you what I have kept out of the book.

It encourages me to think that we have many sympathies in common; and among them, that most of us have taken to our hearts domestic pets. Writing under this conviction, I have not forgotten my responsibility towards you, and towards my Art, in pleading the cause of the harmless and affectionate beings of God's creation. From first to last, you are purposely left in ignorance of the hideous secrets of Vivisection. The outside of the laboratory is a necessary object in my landscape--but I never once open the door and invite you to look in. I trace, in one of my characters, the result of the habitual practice of cruelty (no matter under what pretence) in fatally deteriorating the nature of man--and I leave the picture to speak for itself. My own personal feeling has throughout been held in check. Thankfully accepting the assistance rendered to me by Miss Frances Power Cobbe, by Mrs. H. M. Gordon, and by Surgeon-General Gordon, C.B., I have borne in mind (as they have borne in mind) the value of temperate advocacy to a good cause.

With this, your servant withdraws, and leaves you to the story.



If you are numbered among those good friends of ours, who are especially capable of understanding us and sympathising with us, be pleased to accept the expression of our gratitude, and to pass over the lines that follow.

But if you open our books with a mind soured by distrust; if you habitually anticipate inexcusable ignorance where the course of the story happens to turn on matters of fact; it is you, Sir or Madam, whom I now want.

Not to dispute with you--far from it! I own with sorrow that your severity does occasionally encounter us on assailable ground. But there are exceptions, even to the stiffest rules. Some of us are not guilty of wilful carelessness: some of us apply to competent authority, when we write on subjects beyond the range of our own experience. Having thus far ventured to speak for my colleagues, you will conclude that I am paving the way for speaking next of myself. As our cousins in the United States say--that is so.

In the following pages, there are allusions to medical practice at the bedside; leading in due course to physiological questions which connect themselves with the main interest of the novel. In traversing this delicate ground, you have not been forgotten. Before the manuscript went to the printer, it was submitted for correction to an eminent London surgeon, whose experience extends over a period of forty years.

Again: a supposed discovery in connection with brain disease, which occupies a place of importance, is not (as you may suspect) the fantastic product of the author's imagination. Finding his materials everywhere, he has even contrived to make use of Professor Ferrier--writing on the "Localisation of Cerebral Disease," and closing a confession of the present result of post-mortem examination of brains in these words: "We cannot even be sure, whether many of the changes discovered are the cause or the result of the Disease, or whether the two are the conjoint results of a common cause." Plenty of elbow room here for the spirit of discovery.

On becoming acquainted with "Mrs. Gallilee," you will find her talking--and you will sometimes even find the author talking--of scientific subjects in general. You will naturally conclude that it is "all gross caricature." No; it is all promiscuous reading. Let me spare you a long list of books consulted, and of newspapers and magazines mutilated for "cuttings"--and appeal to examples once more, and for the last time.

Wilkie Collins

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Charles Darwin