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Sometime Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel on the Staff
of his Excellency General Washington.
[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.
A child's early life is such as those who rule over him make it; but they can only modify what he is. Yet, as all know, after their influence has ceased, the man himself has to deal with the effects of blood and breed, and, too, with the consequences of the mistakes of his elders in the way of education. For these reasons I am pleased to say something of myself in the season of my green youth.
The story of the childhood of the great is often of value, no matter from whom they are "ascended," as my friend Warder used to say; but even in the lives of such lesser men as I, who have played the part of simple pawns in a mighty game, the change from childhood to manhood is not without interest.
I have often wished we could have the recorded truth of a child's life as it seemed to him day by day, but this can never be. The man it is who writes the life of the boy, and his recollection of it is perplexed by the sittings of memory, which let so much of thought and feeling escape, keeping little more than barren facts, or the remembrance of periods of trouble or of emotion, sometimes quite valueless, while more important moral events are altogether lost.
As these pages will show, I have found it agreeable, and at times useful, to try to understand, as far as in me lay, not only the men who were my captains or mates in war or in peace, but also myself. I have often been puzzled by that well-worn phrase as to the wisdom of knowing thyself, for with what manner of knowledge you know yourself is a grave question, and it is sometimes more valuable to know what is truly thought of you by your nearest friends than to be forever teasing yourself to determine whether what you have done in the course of your life was just what it should have been.
I may be wrong in the belief that my friend Warder saw others more clearly than he saw himself. He was of that opinion, and he says in one place that he is like a mirror, seeing all things sharply except that he saw not himself. Whether he judged me justly or not, I must leave to others to decide. I should be glad to think that, in the great account, I shall be as kindly dealt with as in the worn and faded pages which tell brokenly of the days of our youth. I am not ashamed to say that my eyes have filled many times as I have lingered over these records of my friend, surely as sweet and true a gentleman as I have ever known. Perhaps sometimes they have even overflowed at what they read. Why are we reluctant to confess a not ignoble weakness, such as is, after all, only the heart's confession of what is best in life? What becomes of the tears of age?
This is but a wearisome introduction, and yet necessary, for I desire to use freely my friend's journal, and this without perpetual mention of his name, save as one of the actors who played, as I did, a modest part in the tumult of the war, in which my own fortunes and his were so deeply concerned. To tell of my own life without speaking freely of the course of a mighty story would be quite impossible. I look back, indeed, with honest comfort on a struggle which changed the history of three nations, but I am sure that the war did more for me than I for it. This I saw in others. Some who went into it unformed lads came out strong men. In others its temptations seemed to find and foster weaknesses of character, and to cultivate the hidden germs of evil. Of all the examples of this influence, none has seemed to me so tragical as that of General Arnold, because, being of reputable stock and sufficient means, generous, in every-day life kindly, and a free-handed friend, he was also, as men are now loath to believe, a most gallant and daring soldier, a tender father, and an attached husband. The thought of the fall of this man fetches back to me, as I write, the remembrance of my own lesser temptations, and with a thankful heart I turn aside to the uneventful story of my boyhood and its surroundings.
I was born in the great city Governor William Penn founded, in Pennsylvania, on the banks of the Delaware, and my earliest memories are of the broad river, the ships, the creek before our door, and of grave gentlemen in straight-collared coats and broad-brimmed beaver hats.
I began life in a day of stern rule, and among a people who did not concern themselves greatly as to a child's having that inheritance of happiness with which we like to credit childhood. Who my people were had much to do with my own character, and what those people were and had been it is needful to say before I let my story run its natural and, I hope, not uninteresting course.
In my father's bedroom, over the fireplace, hung a pretty picture done in oils, by whom I know not. It is now in my library. It represents a pleasant park, and on a rise of land a gray Jacobean house, with, at either side, low wings curved forward, so as to embrace a courtyard shut in by railings and gilded gates. There is also a terrace with urns and flowers. I used to think it was the king's palace, until, one morning, when I was still a child, Friend Pemberton came to visit my father with William Logan and a very gay gentleman, Mr. John Penn, he who was sometime lieutenant-governor of the province, and of whom and of his brother Richard great hopes were conceived among Friends. I was encouraged by Mr. Penn to speak more than was thought fitting for children in those days, and because of his rank I escaped the reproof I should else have met with.
He said to my father, "The boy favours thy people." Then he added, patting my head, "When thou art a man, my lad, thou shouldst go and see where thy people came from in Wales. I have been at Wyncote. It is a great house, with wings in the Italian manner, and a fine fountain in the court, and gates which were gilded when Charles II came to see the squire, and which are not to be set open again until another king comes thither."