With the appearance and availability of the iPad, the Kindle, and other lightweight electronic reading devices, we are less and less likely to perceive how our texts—the things we read—were first made and second transmitted to ourselves. The other night when I finished reading Pride and Prejudice, without spending a penny or five minutes, I found myself beginning David Copperfield. Charles Dickens said the following in the preface to that novel in 1850:
“I do not find it easy to get sufficiently far away from this Book, in the first sensations of having finished it, to refer to it with the composure which this formal heading would seem to require. My interest in it, is so recent and strong; and my mind is so divided between pleasure and regret—pleasure in the achievement of a long design, regret in the separation from many companions—that I am in danger of wearying the reader whom I love, with personal confidences, and private emotions.
“Besides which, all that I could say of the Story, to any purpose, I have endeavoured to say in it.
“It would concern the reader little, perhaps, to know, how sorrowfully the pen is laid down at the close of a two-years’ imaginative task; or how an Author feels as if he were dismissing some portion of himself into the shadowy world, when a crowd of the creatures of his brain are going from him for ever.”
Whether it concerns us to know how sorrowfully Dickens laid down his pen at the close of a two-years’ imaginative task, that he did so and why must be our concern.