MY DEAR HAMMOND:
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I very well know the deep interest which you take in all researches which aim to develope the early history of our State and country, and sympathize with you very sincerely in that local feeling which delights to trace, on your own grounds, and in your own neighborhood, the doubtful progresses of French and Spaniard, in their wild passion for adventure or eager appetite for gold. I have no doubt that the clues are in your hands which shall hereafter conduct you along a portion of the route pursued by that famous cavalier, Hernando de Soto; and I am almost satisfied that the region of Silver Bluff was that distinguished in the adventures of the Spanish Adelantado, by the presence of that dusky but lovely princess of Cofachiqui, who welcomed him with so much favor and whom he treated with an ingratitude as unhandsome as unknightly. But I must not dwell on a subject go seductive; particularly, as I entertain the hope, in some future labor, to weave her legend into an appropriate, and I trust not unworthy history. For the present, inscribing these pages to you, as a memorial of a long and grateful intimacy, and of inquiries and conjectures, musings and meditations, enjoyed together, which, it is my hope, have resulted no less profitably to you than to myself, I propose briefly to give you the plan of the volume in your hands.
The design of the narrative which follows, contemplates, in nearly equal degree, the picturesque and the historical. It belongs to a class of writings with which the world has been long since made familiar, through a collection of the greatest interest, the body of which continues to expand, and which has been entitled the “Romance of History.” This name will justly apply to the present sketches, yet must not be construed to signify any large or important departure, in the narrative, from the absolute records of the Past. The romance here is not suffered to supersede the history. On the contrary, the design of the writer has been simply to supply the deficiencies of the record. Where the author, in this species of writing, has employed history, usually, as a mere loop, upon which to hang his lively fancies and audacious inventions, embodying in his narrative as small a portion of the chronicle as possible, I have been content to reverse the process, making the fiction simply tributary, and always subordinate to the fact. I have been studious to preserve all the vital details of the event, as embodied in the record, and have only ventured my own “graffings” upon it in those portions of the history which exhibited a certain baldness in their details, and seemed to demand the helping agency of art. In thus interweaving the history with the fiction, I have been solicitous always of those proprieties and of that vraisemblance, in the introduction of new details, which are essential to the chief characteristics of the history; seeking equally to preserve the general integrity of the record from which I draw my materials, and of that art which aims to present them in a costume the most picturesque. My labor has been not to make, but to perfect, a history; not to invent facts, but to trace them out to seemingly inevitable results;—to take the premise and work out the problem;—recognize the meagre record which affords simply a general outline; and endeavor, by a severe induction, to supply its details and processes. I have been at no such pains to disguise the chronicle, as will prevent the reader from separating,—should he desire to do so,—the certain from the conjectural; and yet, I trust, that I have succeeded in so linking the two together, as to prevent the lines of junction from obtruding themselves offensively upon his consciousness. Upon the successful prosecution of this object, apart from the native interest which the subject itself possesses, depends all the merit of the performance. It is by raising the tone of the history, warming it with the hues of fancy, and making it dramatic by the continued exercise of art, rather than by any actual violation of its recorded facts, that I have endeavored to awaken interest. To bring out such portions of the event as demand elevation—to suppress those which are only cumbrous, and neither raise the imposing, nor relieve the unavoidable; and to supply, from the probable, the apparent deficiencies of the actual, have been the chief processes in the art which I have employed. What is wholly fictitious will appear rather as episodical matter, than as a part of the narrative; and a brief historical summary, even in regard to the episode, shall occasionally be employed to determine, for the reader, upon how much, or how little, he may properly rely as history.
The experiment of Coligny, in colonizing Florida, is one of those remarkable instances in the early settlement of this country, which deserve the particular attention of our people. Its wild and dark events, its startling tragedies, its picturesque and exciting incidents, long since impressed themselves upon my imagination, as offering suitable materials for employment in romantic fiction. In the preparation of the work which follows, I have rather yielded to the requisitions of publishers and the public, than followed the suggestions of my own taste and judgment. Originally, I commenced the treatment of this material, in the form of poetry; but the stimulus to a keen prosecution of the task was wanting: not so much, perhaps, in consequence of my own diminished interest in the subject, as because of the indifference of readers; who, in all periods have determined the usual direction of the writer. Hereafter, I may prosecute the experiment upon this history in still another fashion. I do not regard this work as precluding me from trying the malleability of its subject, and from seeking to force it into a mould more grateful to the dictates of my imagination. In abandoning the design, however, of shaping it to the form of narrative poetry, I may, at least, submit to the reader such portions of the verse as are already written. My purpose, as will be seen, by the fragmentary passages which follow (in the Appendix at the close of the volume) was to seize upon the strong points of the subject, and exhibit the whole progress of the action, in so many successive scenes; as in the plan adopted by Rogers in his “Columbus”—the one scene naturally forming the introduction to the other, and the whole, a complete and single history. To these fragments let me refer you. With these, my original design found its limit; the spirit which had urged me thus far, no longer quickening me with that impatient eagerness which can alone justify poetic labors. The plan is one which I am no longer likely to pursue. It will no doubt have a place of safe-keeping and harborage in some one of Astolpho’s mansions. It need not be deplored on earth. I shall be but too happy if those who read the performance which follows, shall forbear the wish that it had shared the same destiny. To you, at least, I venture to commend it with a very different hope.
Very truly yours, as ever,
CHARLESTON, S. C., }
May 1, 1850.