free ebooks
Hugh Wynne, Free Quaker by S. Weir Mitchell

PREFACE TO NINETEENTH EDITION

Since Hugh Wynne was published in book form in 1896, it has been many times reprinted, and now that again there is need for a new edition, I use a desired opportunity to rectify some mistakes in names, dates, and localities. These errors were of such a character as to pass unnoticed by the ordinary reader and disturb no one except the local archaeologist or those who propose to the novelist that he shall combine the accuracy of the historical scholar with the creative imagination of the writer of what, after all, is fiction.

Nevertheless, the desire of the scientific mind even in the novel is for all reasonable accuracy, and to attain it I used for six years such winter leisures as the exacting duties of a busy professional life permitted, to collect notes of the dress, hours, sports, habits and talk of the various types of men and women I meant to delineate. I burned a hundred pages of these carefully gathered materials soon after I had found time, in a summer holiday, to write the book for which these notes were so industriously gathered.

It is probable that no historical novel was ever paid the compliment of the close criticism of details which greeted Hugh Wynne. I was most largely in debt for the pointing out of errors in names and localities to a review of my book in a journal devoted to the interest of one of the two divisions of the Society of Friends.

I deeply regretted at the time that my useful critic should have considered my novel as a deliberately planned attack on the views entertained by Friends. It was once again an example of the assumption that the characters of a novel in their opinions and talk represent the author's personal beliefs. I was told by my critic that John Wynne is presented as "the type of the typical character of the Friends." As well might Bishop Proudie be considered as representative of the members and views of the Church of England or Mr. Tulkinghorn of the English lawyer.

A man's course in life does not always represent simple obedience to the counsels of perfection implied in an accepted creed of conduct, but is modified by his own nature. He may therefore quite fail to secure from his beliefs that which they produce in more assimilative natures. Age softens some hard characters, but in John Wynne the early development of senile dementia deprived him of this chance. I drew a peculiar and happily a rare type of man who might have illustrated failure to get the best out of any creed.

The course of this great revolutionary struggle made or marred many men, and the way in which such a time affects character affords to the novel of history its most interesting material.

Erroneous statements in regard to the time and place of Friends' Meetings have been pointed out. As concerns these and the like, I may here state that the manuscript of my novel was read with care by a gentleman who was a birthright member of the Society and both by age and knowledge competent to speak. He remarked upon some of my technical errors in regard to the meetings and discipline of Friends, but advised against change and said that it was traditionally well known that at the time of the Revolution there was much confusion in their assemblies and great bitterness of feeling when so many like Wetherill chose to revolt against the doctrine of absolute obedience to what, whether rightfully or not, they regarded as oppression. Needless to say that I meant no more than to delineate a great spiritual conflict in a very interesting body of men who, professing neutrality, were, if we may trust Washington, anything but neutral.

The amount of accuracy to be allowed in historic fiction aroused fresh interest when Hugh Wynne first appeared. In romances like Quentin Durward and Ivanhoe the question need not be considered. What may annoy the historian in the more serious novel of history does not trouble the ordinary reader nor does it detract from the interest of the story. How little the grossest errors in biography and history affect the opinions of the public concerning a novel long popular may be illustrated by the fact that one of my critics referred me to Henry Esmond for an example of desirable accuracy. It was an unfortunate choice, for in Esmond there is hardly a correct historical statement. The Duke of Hamilton described as about to marry Beatrix was the husband of a second living wife and the father of seven children--an example of contemplated literary bigamy which does not distress the happily ignorant, nor are they at all troubled by the many other and even more singular errors in statement, some of them plainly the result of carelessness. A novel, it seems, may sin sadly as concerns historic facts and yet survive.


eBook Search
Social Sharing
Share Button
About us

freefictionbooks.org is a collection of free ebooks that can be read online. Ebooks are split into pages for easier reading and better bookmarking.

We have more than 35,000 free books in our collection and are adding new books daily.

We invite you to link to us, so as many people as possible can enjoy this wonderful free website.

© 2010-2013 freefictionbooks.org - All Rights Reserved.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Contact Us