« ElőzőTovább »
A TALE OF THE TROUBLES
BY ELIOT WAR BURTON, ESQ.,
AUTHOR OF "THE CONQUEST OF CANADA," "HOCHELAGA," "THE CRESCENT AND THE CROSS," &c., &c.
'Fight on, thou brave trųe heart, and falter not, through dark fortune and through bright. The
HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS,
82 CLIFF STRE E T.
The last few years have been very fruitful in the discovery of old Manuscripts, especially of such as are calculated to throw new light and interest on the important period of our Civil War. It has lately been my fortune to pass much time in the examination of this unprinted literature, and I feel a great interest, perhaps a prejudice, in favor of such unstudied compositions. The frank and manly, yet tender spirit that many of them breathe, the genuine feeling that they reveal, and the stirring incidents that they so naturally relate, attracted me. I was tempted, before laying them aside for graver studies, to endeavor to imitate them, or rather to present their meaning and information in a collective and continuous form. How little justice I have rendered to their merit or to my own design, the sternest critic cannot point out more plainly than I myself am ready to admit. I still venture to hope, however, that I have left enough of their genuine spirit unimpaired, to afford some interest.
Without attempting to confound the Author and the Editor, I can honestly affirm that the latter has not put into the mouth of the former a single sentiment, and scarcely an adventure, that may not be found in the Manuscripts relating to the great Civil War. The Autobiographer (of whom I must henceforth speak in the second person), has spoken for himself truly, if not otherwise commendably.
One fault (or merit, as the case may be) of an Autobiography, is that it necessarily leaves its chief moral deductions to the Reader : the Biographer may make his personages a text for inculcating high and pure and noble principles, whether by the example or the warning of his hero : the Autobiographer can, from the nature of his case, only furnish forth his own adventures and experience, for such deductions as the wisdom or the ingenuity of the Reader may distill from them. The same argument of course applies to fictitious autobiography. In both cases, the utility and success of the work must depend mainly on the Reader, as the prosperity of a jest in the ear of the hearer.
To return to my Cavalier.' His Memoirs, or Confessions as they should perhaps be called, appear to have been composed with a twofold object; namely, in the hope of illustrating the social life of the period of which he
treats, and of rendering more familiar its leading characters; not only such heroic characters as inspire emulation, but also such as may deter from future evil, by showing of what base matter that evil was composed. Nevertheless the Cavalier's narrative in the main is simply the story of his own life, such as it was then, such as it might be now; and if it possess no moral, we can only say that he lived in vain. I do not fear that the antiquity of his experience will prove prejudicial to his interest ; for the passions—as immortal as the spirit of which they are the features—are unchangeable by time and almost by circumstances; nay, if anything, the religion and the chivalry, and the love and hatred of other days affect us more, as they stand out in bolder relief from the familiar circumstances of our own.
It is unnecessary to observe that the Autobiographer writes under a feigned name; in the reign of Charles II., in which his tale concludes, it was by no means satisfactory to look back upon any public career in the preceding reign. Those, however, who are acquainted with the characters of the Wentworth, the Godolphin, and the Sunderland of that time, will easily find parallels for the characters and adventures of Reginald and Hugo Hastings. They will not be surprised to find Cavaliers sometimes conversing without oaths, and Puritans (as I hope) applying texts without profanity : the absence of such accustomed seasoning may tell against “ dramatic relish,” but will not be universally condemned.
To apologize for other and greater faults would be endless and importunate; I prefer to trust my Cavalier and his Confessions, undefended, to the Reader's generous indulgence.
MARCH 20, 1850.