De L'Orme: Band 3

Christian Ernst Kollmann

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Christian Ernst Kollmann
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Dec 31, 1839
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George Payne Rainsford James, Historiographer Royal to King William IV., was born in London in the first year of the nineteenth century, and died at Venice in 1860. His comparatively short life was exceptionally full and active. He was historian, politician and traveller, the reputed author of upwards of a hundred novels, the compiler and editor of nearly half as many volumes of letters, memoirs, and biographies, a poet and a pamphleteer, and, during the last ten years of his life, British Consul successively in Massachusetts, Norfolk (Virginia), and Venice. He was on terms of friendship with most of the eminent men of his day. Scott, on whose style he founded his own, encouraged him to persevere in his career as a novelist; Washington Irving admired him, and Walter Savage Landor composed an epitaph to his memory. He achieved the distinction of being twice burlesqued by Thackeray, and two columns are devoted to an account of him in the new "Dictionary of National Biography." Each generation follows its own gods, and G. P. R. James was, perhaps, too prolific an author to maintain the popularity which made him "in some ways the most successful novelist of his time." But his work bears selection and revival. It possesses the qualities of seriousness and interest; his best historical novels are faithful in setting and free in movement. His narrative is clear, his history conscientious, and his plots are well-conceived. English learning and literature are enriched by the work of this writer, who made vivid every epoch in the world's history by the charm of his romance.

"The Man at Arms" tells the story of Jarnac and Moncontour, and ends with the fatal day of St. Bartholomew. "Henry of Guise" takes up the history of the Religious Wars, with sympathy chiefly for the Catholics, and closes with the assassination of that great soldier; then "One in a Thousand" resumes the tale just before the murder of Henry III. and the battle of Ivry. The two former are rather short and remarkably brisk in movement, this one is somewhat longer and much more elaborate. It has a complex plot, a large crowd of characters from both factious, and has evidently been worked out with, perhaps, less vivacity but more pains. "Willingly" says the novelist, "we turn once more from the dull, dry page of history ... to the more entertaining and instructive accidents and adventures of the individual characters which, with somewhat less skill than that of a Philidore, we have been moving about on the little chess-board before us." There is an ironical undermeaning here; but so far as James suggests that his flagrant romanticism, mysterious dwarfs, princesses disguised as pages, and battles prefigured in the thunder-clouds are more interesting than his retelling of historical events and careful portraiture of historical people, we must venture to dissent from him. The fiction is simply his favourite story of a wealthy heiress held out as a bait by the heads of rival factions to attract the allegiance of two powerful nobles. We feel not the slightest anxiety as to the ultimate happiness of the fair lady and the blameless lover, or the appropriate fate of their enemies. On the other hand, the intimate picture of the Leaguers at Paris, of the headquarters of Henry Quatre, and more particularly the speaking likeness of the Duke de Mayenne, the head of the Guises, are keenly interesting and real contributions to the history of those times. Though the stage effects are well done, this shows far more talent. With all his fierce ambition, his lack of scruple, and his froward temper, the Duke stands out as a man, and is infinitely more alive than the purely romantic characters; furthermore, the family likeness between the various members of that powerful house, the Guises, is admirably brought out in this series of romances, and the figure of Henry of Navarre is not less well done, though he is a personage that we meet with less rarely either in James's novels or in those of other historical raconteurs.

It was a dark and stormy night,Ña very dark night indeed. No dog's mouth, whether terrier, mastiff, or Newfoundland, was ever so dark as that night. The hatches had been battened down, and every aperture but one, by which any of the great, curly-pated, leaping waves could jump into the vessel, had been closed.
What vessel? the reader may perhaps inquire. Well, that being a piece of reasonable curiosity,Ñalthough I do wish, as a general thing, that readers would not be so impatient,ÑI will gratify it, and answer the inquirer's question; and, indeed, would have told him all about it in five minutes if he would but have given me time.
What vessel? asks the reader. Why, a little, heavy-looking, fore-and-aft, one-masted ship, somewhat tubbish in form, which had battled with a not very favorable gale during a long stormy day, and had, as the sun went down, approached the coast of France, it might be somewhat too close for safety. The atmosphere in the cabin below was hot and oppressive. How indeed could it be otherwise, when not one breath of air, notwithstanding all the bullying and roaring of Boreas, had been able to get in during the whole day? But such being the case, and respiration in the little den being difficult, the only altogether terrestrial animalÑsailors are, of course, amphibiousÑwhich that vessel contained had forced his way up to the deck through the only narrow outlet which had been left open.
The amphibia have always a considerable dislike and some degree of contempt for all land-animals, and the five sailors, with their skipper, who formed all the crew so small a craft required, would probably have driven below the intruder upon their labors, had they had time, leisure, or light to notice him at all. But for near two hours he stood at the stern on the weather side of the ship, holding on by the bulwarks, wet to the skin, with his hat blown off and probably swimming back toward Old England, and his hands numbed with cold and with hard grasping.
In writing the pages which follow this Preface, I have had to encounter the difficulty of compressing very extensive matter into an extremely limited space. As the subject was, in my eyes, a very interesting one, and every particular connected with it had often been food for thought and object of entertainment to myself, the task of curtailing was the more ungrateful: nor should I have undertaken it, had I not been convinced by my publisher that one volume would be as much as the public in general would be inclined to read. I wished to write upon Chivalry and the Crusades, because I fancied that in the hypotheses of many other authors I had discovered various errors and misstatements, which gave a false impression of both the institution and the enterprise; and I have endeavoured, in putting forth my own view of the subject, to advance no one point, however minute, which cannot be justified by indisputable authority. A favourite theory is too often, in historical writing like the bed of the ancient Greek; and facts are either stretched or lopped away to agree with it: but to ensure as much accuracy as possible, I have taken pains to mark in the margin of the pages the different writers on whose assertions my own statements are founded, with a corresponding figure, by which each particular may be referred to its authority.
In regard to these authors themselves, it seems necessary here to give some information, that those persons who are inclined to inquire beyond the mere surface may know what credit is to be attached to each.
On the first crusade we have a whole host of contemporary writers, many of whom were present at the events they describe. Besides these are several others, who, though they wrote at an after-period, took infinite pains to render their account as correct as possible. The authors I have principally cited for all the earlier facts of the Holy War are, William of Tyre, Albert of Aix, Fulcher of Chartres, Raimond of Agiles, Guibert of Nogent, Radulph of Ca‘n, and Robert, surnamed the Monk.
It was as dark and sombre a morning, the sky was as gloomy, the earth as dry and parched, as earth, sky, and morning ever appear in the most northern climates. A dull grey expanse of leaden cloud shut out the blue heaven, a hard black frost pinched up the ground, the blades of grass stood stiff and rugged on the frozen soil, and vague grey mists lay in all the hollows of the ground. The forests, the manifold forests that then spread over the fair land of France, showed nothing but bare branches, except where here and there the yoke-elm or tenacious beech retained in patches its red and withered leaves, while beneath the trees again, the ground was thickly carpeted with the fallen honours of the past summer, mingled with hoar frost and thin snow. A chilliness more piercing than mere frost pervaded the air; and the aspect of the whole scene was cheerless and melancholy.

Such was the aspect of the day, though the scene was in the south of France, at a spot which we shall leave for the present nameless, when at about seven o'clock in the morning--an hour in which, at that period of the year, the sun's rays are weak and powerless--a tall, strong, florid man of about four-and-thirty years of age was seen upon the edge of a wide wood walking along cautiously step by step, carefully bending down his eyes upon the withered leaves that strewed his path, as if he had dropped something of value which he sought to find.

The wood, as we have said, was extensive, covering several miles of undulating ground, broken by rocks and dingles, and interspersed by more than one piece of water. It contained various kinds of tree, as well as various sorts of soil; but at the spot of which we now speak the wood was low and thin, gradually increasing in volume as it rose along the slope of the adjacent hill, till it grew into a tangled thicket, from which rose a number of tall trees, waving their grey branches sadly in the wintry air. On a distant eminence, rising far above the wood itself, might be seen towers, and turrets, and pinnacles, the abode of some of the lords of the land; and at the end of a long glade, up which the man we have just mentioned was cautiously stealing, as we have described, appeared a little cottage with one or two curious outbuildings, not usually found attached to the abodes of the agricultural population.

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