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of the burning to the death of the poet, a period of fierce anarchy and bloodshed, during which your noble relatives, Sir Henry and Sir Thomas Norreys, were slain.*
I have the honor to remain,
Dear Sir Denham Norreys,
Mallow, August 3rd, 1854.
* Vide ANNALS OF IRELAND, A.D. 1559.
An author seeking the materials of a new novel is like an astronomer looking for a new star. If the novel is to be historical, he fixes his mind upon some definite period of history, as the astronomer does his eye upon some given space in the heavens, until the object sought breaks upon his view.
The astronomer has his own wise reasons for deciding that there should be a new star, planet, or satellite, within the field of vision to which he points his telescope, —whether it be within or without the orbits of the earth or moon; and the writer of Historical Romance imagines that he, also, has wise and cogent reasons for deciding on the period and place most likely to produce the materials of a story.
I have chosen for the date of my story the period intervening between the years 1599 and 1603, and for the field of my mental operations or discoveries, the province of Munster, in the South of Ireland; visited, just before, and about that time, by some of the most distinguished men of Queen Elizabeth's reign; among whom we meet that gallant soldier, handsome courtier, and versatile philosopher, Sir Walter Raleigh ; and his friend, that “bright particular star," Edmund Spenser, the Poet. In a word, I have confined my observations to the “ Constellation of Virgo," which cast such lurid and malignant rays athwart this portion of the Virgin Queen's dominions.
Periods of deep historical interest seem, at first view, to furnish abundant material for works of the imagination; but the unsuitableness of the material appears, when you attempt to work it into a story. To combine fact with fiction, or weave them into the same web, is as strongly forbidden by the canons of criticism, as was the mixing of woollen and linen in the same garment, by the laws of Moses. Nor are historical events the stuff that novels are made of; they do not please the taste of the reader as much as do the finer tissues of the imagination. They lack novelty; and the writer of histori. cal romance, in his attempts to supply this want, is not allowed, by any literary clipping, paring, or patching, to make old facts—as mothers do old clothes—appear almost as good as new.* The evils resulting from the dissemination of historical untruth would be too high a penalty for the pleasure of producing works of the imagination. Works of this kind, belonging to the present day, are supposed to contain a large quantity of general truth, or philosophy, if you please—but I doubt whether this is cheaply purchased by the circulation of particular falsehoods.
As the wholesome state of public feeling on this subject must considerably circumscribe the province of the writer of historical romance, the principal advantage of this kind of novel would seem to result from the historical association which it derives from the period, place, and characters of the story. This is something—for association not only prepares the mind of the reader to relish the book, but it also influences and exalts the mind and style of the writer, tinges and illuminates his pages, and renders his story far more interesting to those acquainted with the circumstances whence it took its origin, than it would otherwise be.
*“ The mother, wi' her needle and her shears, Gars auld claes look amaist as weel's the new.”
The Cotter's Saturday Night.
But it requires much tact and caution to preserve all the advantages of this association, and, at the same time, to keep at a safe sailing distance from the iron-bound coast of history, that is, to take advantage of both the land and sea breezes. Knowing the danger of such navigation, and the merciless character of the wreckers on the coast, sensible, too, of my own want of skill, and being, withal, a most timid, modest man, I have resolved to follow the example of Columbus, who struck directly out to sea, and out of sight of the old world, when he went in search of a new one.
Whether I shall succeed in discovering a new world remains to be proved. So far as I have gone, I have met with nothing but sea-weed, and have seen nothing distinctly but a few barren rocks, rising amidst a wide waste of waters; but I think