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Rafael Sabatini on His Early Writings

From the Grosset & Dunlap Edition of The Lion's Skin date of publication unknown (presumably 1925)


The present book is one of a group of novels which I regard as the sins of my literary nonage, and which I have desired as ardently and vainly to bury in oblivion as in age we desire to see forgotten the errors of our youth.

But a thing once uttered is irrevocable, and so these books will persist in spite of any efforts of mine to revoke them. To battle against the inevitable is vainly to dissipate energies which might more profitably be addressed to other tasks.

If, however, I cannot restrain the circulation of these novels, at least I may be permitted to offer an explanation of how they come to be placed before my American readers, in the hope, by this explanation, to find mercy in their eyes if they feel themselves defrauded upon discovering how far this work is below the standard which Scaramouche and its successors may have led them to expect.

The kindly reception given in the United States to Scaramouche and Captain Blood was such as to justify my American publishers in the assumption that a welcome would be assured for other, earlier books of mine, which either had never been published in America, or else, if published, had been overlooked. We took counsel together, and began by reissuing what I considered the best of my pre-Scaramouche work: The Sea-Hawk, The Snare, The Banner of the Bull, and The Historical Nights' Entertainment. Beyond the addition of two historical essays, The Life of Cesare Borgia and Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition, it was not my intention that these reissues should include any further titles. In my anxiety to retain the esteem of the good American friends I had won, it was natural that I should wish to offer them only of my best.

But the demand for those books, when they appeared, so far exceeded all expectations that I allowed myself to be persuaded to make a further selection for reissue from my still earlier publications. It was a fairly extensive selection, comprising as it did practically everything else that I had written with the exception of the group which is the subject of the present note. I intended quite positively that it should be final, and that no further past titles of mine should be added to my list of American publications.

If reasons other than those supplied by my literary conscience were necessary to strengthen this decision, they were forthcoming from certain quarters of the American Press, in which it was assumed, a little too carelessly, that these reissues were new books from my pen. My supposed prolificacy became, here and there, a matter for jeers, which would have been deserved enough if based upon fact instead of being addressed to an author whose rate of output has hardly ever exceeded two books in three years.

That, however, is mentioned in passing.

By the decision stated I should have been glad to abide. But circumstances have defeated me. It was impossible for me to prevent certain of the English editions of these books from reaching the United States. Their existence being thus advertised, my American publishers found themselves in receipt of inquiries for these novels, and they invited me to instruct them how they should deal with the matter. It was mutually determined that they should import of each of these titles a limited number of sheets from my English publishers, solely for the purpose of satisfying such orders as might be thrust upon them. This, however, far from solving the difficulty, as I had hoped, merely had the effect of increasing it. To my infinite dismay, the issue of those copies served to spread the demand, and since it has become apparent that, unless I sanction their publication in the ordinary way, the American orders for these volumes will be supplied direct from England, I have no choice but to retreat from the position which I had taken up.

I have described these books as amongst the most flagrant sins of my literary nonage. They are the work of youth, and each bears upon its face the faults that are perhaps to be expected of early work: immaturity of craftsmanship; immaturity of historical scholarship; and lack of restraint both in conception and execution. On the other hand, it is possible that they may contain some of the virtues inherent in all young things, and for the sake of which we commonly condone the shortcomings that usually accompany them.

These virtues, if discoverable at all, will be found in the stories themselves, and not in their treatment. The historical part of the work is in all these novels extremely superficial. At the time of writing them, I had yet to make the discovery that, to produce an historical romance of any value, it is necessary first to engage in researches so exhaustive as to qualify one to write a history of the epoch in which the romance is set.


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