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- Hugh Wynne, Free Quaker - 1/75 -
Sometime Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel on the Staff of his Excellency General Washington.
By S. WEIR MITCHELL, M.D., LL.D.
WITH FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS
By HOWARD PYLE
[Frontispiece Illustration: "IS IT YES OR NO, DARTHEA?"]
[Transcriber's Note: The drawing depicts a man and woman riding on horseback side-by-side.]
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.
The purpose of the novel is, after all, to be acceptably interesting. If it be historical, the historic people should not be the constantly present heroes of the book. The novelist's proper use of them is to influence the fates of lesser people and to give the reader such sense of their reality as in the delineation of characters, is rarely possible for the historian.
With these long intended comments, I leave this book to the many readers whose wants a new edition is meant to supply. I may say in conclusion that I should have been less eager to alter, correct, and explain if it were not that in schools and colleges Hugh Wynne has been and is still used in a variety of ways so that the example of accuracy and a definition of its desirable extent in historic fiction becomes in some sense a literary duty.
S. WEIR MITCHELL.
It is now many years since I began these memoirs. I wrote fully a third of them, and then put them aside, having found increasing difficulties as I went on with my task. These arose out of the constant need to use the first person in a narrative of adventure and incidents which chiefly concern the writer, even though it involve also the fortunes of many in all ranks of life. Having no gift in the way of composition, I knew not how to supply or set forth what was outside of my own knowledge, nor how to pretend to that marvellous insight, as to motives and thoughts, which they affect who write books of fiction. This has always seemed to me absurd, and so artificial that, with my fashion of mind, I have never been able to enjoy such works nor agreeably to accept their claim to such privilege of insight. In a memoir meant for my descendants, it was fitting and desirable that I should at times speak of my own appearance, and, if possible, of how I seemed as child or man to others. This, I found, I did not incline to do, even when I myself knew what had been thought of me by friend or foe. And so, as I said, I set the task aside, with no desire to take it up again.
Some years later my friend, John Warder, died, leaving to my son, his namesake, an ample estate, and to me all his books, papers, plate, and wines. Locked in a desk, I found a diary, begun when a lad, and kept, with more or less care, during several years of the great war. It contained also recollections of our youthful days, and was very full here and there of thoughts, comments, and descriptions concerning events of the time, and of people whom we both had known. It told of me much that I could not otherwise have willingly set down, even if the matter had appeared to me as it did to him, which was not always the case; also my friend chanced to have been present at scenes which deeply concerned me, but which, without his careful setting forth, would never have come to my knowledge.
A kindly notice, writ nine years before, bade me use his journal as seemed best to me. When I read this, and came to see how full and clear were his statements of much that I knew, and of some things which I did not, I felt ripely inclined to take up again the story I had left unfinished; and now I have done so, and have used my friend as the third person, whom I could permit to say what he thought of me from time to time, and to tell of incidents I did not see, or record impressions and emotions of his own. This latter privilege pleases me because I shall, besides my own story, be able to let those dear to me gather from the confessions of his journal, and from my own statements, what manner of person was the true gentleman and gallant soldier to whom I owed so much.
I trust this tale of an arduous struggle by a new land against a great empire will make those of my own blood the more desirous to serve their country with honour and earnestness, and with an abiding belief in the great Ruler of events.
In my title of this volume I have called myself a "Free Quaker." The term has no meaning for most of the younger generation, and yet it should tell a story of many sad spiritual struggles, of much heart-searching distress, of brave decisions, and of battle and of camp.
At Fifth and Arch streets, on an old gable, is this record:
BY GENERAL SUBSCRIPTION, FOR THE FREE QUAKERS. ERECTED A.D. 1783, OF THE EMPIRE, 8.
In the burying-ground across the street, and in and about the sacred walls of Christ Church, not far away, lie Benjamin Franklin, Francis Hopkinson, Peyton Randolph, Benjamin Rush, and many a gallant soldier and sailor of the war for freedom. Among them, at peace forever, rest the gentle-folks who stood for the king--the gay men and women who were neutral, or who cared little under which George they danced or gambled or drank their old Madeira. It is a neighbourhood which should be forever full of interest to those who love the country of our birth.
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