Preface to Antonina
PREFACE TO THE PRESENT EDITION.
Ten years have passed since this historical romance was published in its original form. The first volume, and part of the second, were written in the quiet and seclusion of my father’s painting-room, to which I used to repair with my pen and ink, in the evening, almost as regularly as he used to enter it with his palette and brushes in the morning. His death suspended the progress of the story, when I had completed nearly half of it. I put Antonina aside, and addressed myself to the writing of another story, which lay far nearer to my heart—the story of my father’s life. In the “Memoirs of William Collins, R.A.,” I saw my name on the title-page of a printed and published book, for the first time.
After the publication of the biography, I once more opened the portfolio in which Antonina had been put away. How well I remember the feeling of discouragement with which I looked at the half-finished manuscript, and thought of the doubtful future, if I ever succeeded in bringing my work to an end! Two years previously, I had tried my hand at writing a romance; had offered it to every publisher of fiction in London; and had, in each case, received my manuscript back, with a letter in which my proposals were politely declined. I am wise enough, now, to know that the publishers were right, and that my earliest effort, as a novelist, was made in the wrong direction. But, at the time, the remembrance of my first failure hung ominously over my mind, and darkened the fair white pages of my historical romance which were still to be filled with writing. However, the natural interest that I felt in my work, for its own sake, helped me to go on resolutely, if not hopefully, with my doubtful venture. Antonina was finished in Paris, and was sent in the first instance to the late Mr. Colburn—by whom the publication of the book was declined. Fully prepared for a second series of letters of refusal from the publishers, in acknowledgement of the offer of my second work of fiction, I next applied to Mr. Bentley, who, to my surprise and delight, at once accepted the book. Antonina (bound in great splendour) was published in three volumes; and was received by the critical authorities with such a chorus of praise as has never been sung over me since. The favourable verdict of the reviews (whether merited or not) was endorsed, in time, by the readers; many of my literary “elders and betters” kindly adding their special tribute of encouragement and approval. In short, Antonina opened to me a career as a novelist, and that career I have continued to follow to the present time.
The book which thus decided my vocation in life, is now presented to the reader in a compact form. It would be idle to say that I do not look back at my first work of fiction with a partiality which I cannot expect others to feel for it. But I am not, on that account, altogether blind to its defects. My later and better experience shows me blemishes in treatment and in style, which it is now too late to remove from these pages. I can only hope I am justified in believing that there are merits in this performance, which may fairly be set against the faults. Antonina may, I think, claim to be founded on a well-chosen subject. The treatment of that subject, however far it may be from rising to the importance of one of the grandest past events which the world has ever witnessed, is at least free from the fatal display of learning which has hopelessly damaged the popularity of the historical romance in these times. And the story (if I may be allowed to say so) has, with all its youthful crudities of execution, a certain freshness and vigour of dramatic interest, which may carry the reader to the end—though the characters live in the fifth century, and the events pass in the twilight magnificence of old Rome.
This is all I need say, in regard to the present edition. The critical principles that guided me in framing the story, with other explanatory matters relating to the details, will be found in the extract from the original preface, which follows these lines.
Harley Street, London,
EXTRACT FROM THE ORIGINAL PREFACE.
In preparing to compose a fiction founded on history, the writer of these pages thought it no necessary requisite of such a work that the principal characters appearing in it should be drawn from the historical personages of the period. On the contrary, he felt that some very weighty objections attached to this plan of composition. He knew well that it obliged a writer to add largely from invention to what was actually known—to fill in with the colouring of romantic fancy the bare outline of historic fact—and thus to place the novelist’s fiction in what he could not but consider most unfavourable contrast to the historian’s truth. He was further by no means convinced that any story in which historical characters supplied the main agents, could be preserved in its fit unity of design and restrained within its due limits of development, without some falsification or confusion of historical dates—a species of poetical licence of which he felt no disposition to avail himself, as it was his main anxiety to make his plot invariably arise, and proceed out of the great events of the era, exactly in the order in which they occurred.
Influenced therefore by these considerations, he thought that by forming all his principal characters from imagination, he should be able to mould them as he please to the main necessities of the story; to display them, without any impropriety, as influenced in whatever manner appeared most strikingly interesting by its minor incidents; and further to make them, on all occasions, without trammel or hindrance, the practical exponents of the spirit of the age, of all the various historical illustrations of the period, which the Author’s researches among conflicting but equally important authorities had enabled him to garner up. While, at the same time, the appearance of verisimilitude necessary to an historical romance might, he imagined, be successfully preserved by the occasional introduction of the living characters of the era, in those portions of the plot comprising events with which they had been remarkably connected.
On this plan the present work has been produced.
To the fictitious characters alone is committed the task of representing the spirit of the age. The Roman Emperor, Honorius, and the Gothic King, Alaric, mix but little personally in the business of the story—only appearing in such events, and acting under such circumstances, as the records of history strictly authorise; but exact truth in respect to time, place, and circumstance is observed in every historical event introduced in the plot, from the period of the march of the Gothic invaders over the Alps to the close of the first barbarian blockade of Rome.
Preface to Antonina; or, the Fall of
Rome. Sampson Low, Son, and Co., London 1861 pp. iii-viii.
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