This preface was scanned and converted to html by George P. Landow]
THIS work has had the good fortune to be so general a favorite with the public, that the author is spared the task of obtruding any comments in its vindication from adverse criticism. The profound scholarship of German criticism, which has given so minute an attention to the domestic life of the ancients, has sufficiently testified to the general fidelity with which the manners, habits, and customs of the inhabitants of Pompeii have been described in these pages. And writing the work almost on the spot, and amidst a population that still preserve a strong family likeness to their classic forefathers, I could scarcely fail to catch something of those living colors which mere book-study alone would not have sufficed to bestow; it is, I suspect, to this accidental advantage that this work is principally indebted for a greater popularity than has hitherto attended the attempts of scholars to create an interest, by fictitious narrative, in the manners and persons of a classic age. Perhaps, too, the writers I allude to, and of whose labors I would speak with the highest respect, did not sufficiently remember, that in works of imagination, the description of manners, however important as an accessory, must still be subordinate to the vital elements of interest, — namely, plot, character, and passion. And in reviving the ancient shadows, they have rather sought occasion to display erudition, than to show how the human heart beats the same, whether under the Grecian tunic or the Roman toga. It is this, indeed, which distinguishes the imitators of classic learning from the classic literature itself, for, in classic literature, there is no want of movement and passion, —of all the more animated elements of what we now call romance. Indeed, romance itself, as we take it from the Middle Ages, owes much to Grecian fable. Many of the adventures of knight-errantry are borrowed either from the trials of Ulysses, or the achievements of Theseus. And while Homer, yet unrestored to his throne among the poets, was only known to the literature of early chivalry in a spurious or grotesque form, the genius of Gothic fiction was constructing many a tale for Northern wonder from the mutilated fragments of the divine old tale-teller.
Amongst those losses of the past which we have most to deplore are the old novels or romances for which Miletus was famous. But, judging from all else of Greek literature that is left to us, there can be little doubt that they were well fitted to sustain the attention of lively and impatient audiences by the same arts which are necessary to the modern tale-teller: that they could not have failed in variety of incident and surprises of ingenious fancy; in the contrasts of character; and, least of all, in the delineations of the tender passion, which, however modified in its expression by differences of national habits, forms the main subject, of human interest in all the multiform varieties of fictitious narrative, —from the Chinese to the Arab; from the Arab to the Scandinavian, — and which, at this day, animates the tale of many an itinerant Boccaccio, gathering his spell-bound listeners round him, on sunny evenings, by the Sicilian seas.
Last modified 4 March 2016