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- Thaddeus of Warsaw - 1/106 -

[Illustration: DR. MIDDLETON.]





"Loin d'aimer la guerre, il l'abhorre; En triomphant même il déplore Les désastres qu'elle produit Et, couronné par la victoire, II gémit de sa propre gloire. Si la paix n'en est pas le fruit."



Written for the new edition of "Thaddeus of Warsaw," forming one of the series called "The Standard Novels."

To such readers alone who, by the sympathy of a social taste, fall in with any blameless fashion of the day, and, from an amiable interest, also, in whatever may chance to afford them innocent pleasure, would fain know something more about an author whose works have brought them that gratification than the cold letter of a mere literary preface usually tells: to such readers this--something of an egotistical--epistle is addressed.

For, in beginning the republication of a regular series of the novels, or, as they have been more properly called, biographical romances, of which I have been the author, it has been considered desirable to make certain additions to each work, in the form of a few introductory pages and scattered notes, illustrative of the origin of the tale, of the historical events referred to in it, and of the actually living characters who constitute its personages, with some account, also, of the really local scenery described; thus giving, it is thought, a double zest to the entertainment of the reader, by bringing him into a previous acquaintance with the persons he is to meet in the book, and making him agreeably familiar with the country through which he is to travel in their company. Indeed, the social taste of the times has lately fully shown how advantageous the like conversational disclosures have proved to the recent republications of the celebrated "Waverley Novels," by the chief of novel-writers; and in the new series of the admirable naval tales by the distinguished American novelist, both of whom paid to the mother- country the gratifying tribute of making it their birthplace.

Such evidences in favor of an argument could not fail to persuade me to undertake the desired elucidating task; feeling, indeed, particularly pleased to adopt, in my turn, a successful example from the once Great Unknown--now the not less great avowed author of the Waverley Novels, in the person of Sir Walter Scott, who did me the honor to adopt the style or class of novel of which "Thaddeus of Warsaw" was the first,--a class which, uniting the personages and facts of real history or biography with a combining and illustrative machinery of the imagination, formed a new species of writing in that day, and to which Madame de Staël and others have given the appellation of "an epic in prose." The day of its appearance is now pretty far back: for "Thaddeus of Warsaw" (a tale founded on Polish heroism) and the "Scottish Chiefs" (a romance grounded on Scottish heroism) were both published in England, and translated into various languages abroad, many years before the literary wonder of Scotland gave to the world his transcendent story of Waverley, forming a most impressive historical picture of the last struggle of the papist, but gallant, branch of the Stuarts for the British throne. [Footnote: It was on the publication of these, her first two works, in the German language that the authoress was honored with being made a lady of the Chapter of St. Joachim, and received the gold cross of the order from Wirtemburg.]

"Thaddeus of Warsaw" being the first essay, in the form of such an association between fact and fancy, was published by its author with a natural apprehension of its reception by the critical part of the public. She had not, indeed, written it with any view to publication, but from an almost resistless impulse to embody the ideas and impressions with which her heart and mind were then full. It was written in her earliest youth; dictated by a fervent sympathy with calamities which had scarcely ceased to exist, and which her eager pen sought to portray; and it was given to the world, or rather to those who might feel with her, with all the simple-hearted enthusiasm which saw no impediment when a tale of virtue or of pity was to be told.

In looking back through the avenue of life to that time, what events have occurred, public and private, to the countries and to the individuals named in that tale! to persons of even as lofty names and excellences, of our own and other lands, who were mutually affected with me in admiration and regret for the virtues and the sorrows described! In sitting down now to my retrospective task, I find myself writing this, my second preface to the story of "Thaddeus of Warsaw," just thirty years from the date of its first publication. Then, I wrote when the struggle for the birthright independence of Poland was no more; when she lay in her ashes, and her heroes in their wounds; when the pall of death spread over the whole country, and her widows and orphans travelled afar.

In the days of my almost childhood,--that is, eight years before I dipped my pen in their tears,--I remember seeing many of those hapless refugees wandering about St. James's Park. They had sad companions in the like miseries, though from different enemies, in the emigrants from France; and memory can never forget the variety of wretched yet noble-looking visages I then contemplated in the daily walks which my mother's own little family group were accustomed to take there. One person, a gaunt figure, with melancholy and bravery stamped on his emaciated features, is often present to the recollection of us all. He was clad in a threadbare blue uniform great coat, with a black stock, a rusty old hat, pulled rather over his eyes; his hands without gloves; but his aspect was that of a perfect gentleman, and his step that of a military man. We saw him constantly at one hour, in the middle walk of the Mall, and always alone; never looking to the right nor to the left, but straight on; with an unmoving countenance, and a pace which told that his thoughts were those of a homeless and hopeless man--hopeless, at least, of all that life might bring him. On, on he went to the end of the Mall; turned again, and on again; and so he continued to do always, as long as we remained spectators of his solitary walk: once, indeed, we saw him crossing into St. Martin's Lane. Nobody seemed to know him, for he spoke to none; and no person ever addressed him, though many, like ourselves, looked at him, and stopped in the path to gaze after him. We often longed to be rich, to follow him wherever his wretched abode might have been, and then silently to send comforts to him from hands he knew not of. We used to call him, when speaking of him to ourselves, _Il Penseroso;_ and by that name we yet not unfrequently talk of him to each other, and never without recurrence to the very painful, because unavailing, sympathy we then felt for that apparently friendless man. Such sympathy is, indeed, right; for it is one of the secondary means by which Providence conducts the stream of his mercies to those who need the succor of their fellow-creatures; and we cannot doubt that, though the agency of such Providence was not to be in our hands, there were those who had both the will and the power given, and did not, like ourselves, turn and pity that interesting emigrant in vain.

Some time after this, General Kosciusko, the justly celebrated hero of Poland, came to England, on his way to the United States; having been released from his close imprisonment in Russia, and in the noblest manner, too, by the Emperor Paul, immediately on his accession to the throne. His arrival caused a great sensation in London, and many of the first characters of the times pressed forward to pay their respects to such real patriotic virtue in its adversity. An old friend of my family was amongst them; his own warm heart encouraging the enthusiasm of ours, he took my brother Robert to visit the Polish veteran, then lodging at Sablonière's Hotel, in Leicester Square. My brother, on his return to us, described him as a noble looking man, though not at all handsome, lying upon a couch in a very enfeebled state, from the effects of numerous wounds he had received in his breast by the Cossacks' lances after his fall, having been previously overthrown by a sabre stroke on his head. His voice, in consequence of the induced internal weakness, was very low, and his speaking always with resting intervals. He wore a black bandage across his forehead, which covered a deep wound there; and, indeed, his whole figure bore marks of long suffering.

Our friend introduced my brother to him by name, and as "a boy emulous of seeing and following noble examples." Kosciusko took him kindly by the hand, and spoke to him words of generous encouragement, in whatever path of virtuous ambition he might take. They never have been forgotten. Is it, then, to be wondered at, combining the mute distress I had so often contemplated in other victims of similar misfortunes with the magnanimous object then described to me by my brother, that the story of heroism my young imagination should think of embodying into shape should be founded on the actual scenes of Kosciusko's sufferings, and moulded out of his virtues!

To have made him the ostensible hero of the tale, would have suited neither the modesty of his feelings nor the humbleness of my own expectation of telling it as I wished. I therefore took a younger and less pretending agent, in the personification of a descendant of the great John Sobieski.

But it was, as I have already said, some years after the partition of Poland that I wrote, and gave for publication, my historical romance on that catastrophe. It was finished amid a circle of friends well calculated to fan the flame which had inspired its commencement some of the leading heroes of the British army just returned from the victorious fields of Alexandria and St. Jean d'Acre; and, seated in my brother's little study, with the war-dyed coat in which the veteran Abercrombie breathed his last grateful sigh, while, like Wolfe, he gazed on the boasted invincible standard of the enemy,

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