The Trail of The Sword by Gilbert Parker
This book, like Mrs. Falchion, was published in two volumes in January. That was in 1894. It appeared first serially in the Illustrated London News, for which paper, in effect, it was written, and it also appeared in a series of newspapers in the United States during the year 1893. This was a time when the historical novel was having its vogue. Mr. Stanley Weyman, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a good many others were following the fashion, and many of the plays at the time were also historical-- so-called. I did not write The Trail of the Sword because it was in keeping with the spirit of the moment. Fashion has never in the least influenced my writing or my literary purposes. Whatever may be thought of my books, they represent nothing except my own bent of mind, my own wilful expression of myself, and the setting forth of that which seized my imagination.
I wrote The Trail of the Sword because the early history of the struggles between the French and English and the North American Continent interested me deeply and fascinated my imagination. Also, I had a most intense desire to write of the Frenchman of the early days of the old regime; and I have no idea why it was so, because I have no French blood in my veins nor any trace of French influence in my family. There is, however, the Celtic strain, the Irish blood, immediate of the tang, as it were, and no doubt a sympathy between the Celtic and the Gallic strain is very near, and has a tendency to become very dear. It has always been a difficulty for me to do anything except show the more favourable side of French character and life.
I am afraid that both in The Trail of the Sword, which was the forerunner of The Seats of the Mighty, the well sunk, in a sense, out of which the latter was drawn, I gave my Frenchman the advantage over his English rival. In The Trail of the Sword, the gallant French adventurer's chivalrous but somewhat merciless soul, makes a better picture than does his more phlegmatic but brave and honourable antagonist, George Gering. Also in The Seats of the Mighty, Doltaire, the half-villain, overshadows the good English hero from first to last; and yet, despite the unconscious partiality for the individual in both books, English character and the English as a race, as a whole, are dominant in the narrative.
There is a long letter, as a dedication to this book, addressed to my father; there is a note also, which explains the spirit in which the book was written, and I have no desire to enlarge this introduction in the presence of these prefaces to the first edition. But I may say that this book was gravely important to me, because it was to test all my capacity for writing a novel with an historical background, and, as it were, in the custom of a bygone time. It was not really the first attempt at handling a theme belonging to past generations, because I had written for Good Words, about the year 1890, a short novel which I called The Chief Factor, a tale of the Hudson's Bay Company. It was the first novel or tale of mine which secured copyright under the new American copyright act of 1892.
There was a circumstance connected with this publication which is interesting. When I arrived in New York, I had only three days in which to have the book printed in order to secure the copyright before Good Words published the novel as its Christmas annual in its entirety. I tried Messrs. Harper & Brothers, and several other publishers by turn, but none of them could undertake to print the book in the time. At last some kind friend told me to go to the Trow Directory Binding Company, which I did. They said they could not print the story in the time. I begged them to reconsider. I told them how much was at stake for me. I said that I would stay in the office and read the proofs as they came from the press, and would not move until it was finished. Refusal had been written on the lips and the face of the manager at the beginning, but at last I prevailed. He brought the foreman down there and then. Each of us, elated by the conditions of the struggle, determined to pull the thing off. We printed that book of sixty-five thousand words or so, in forty-eight hours, and it arrived in Washington three hours before the time was up. I saved the copyright, and I need hardly say that my gratitude to the Trow Directory Binding Company was as great as their delight in having done a really brilliant piece of work.
The day after the copyright was completed, I happened to mention the incident to Mr. Archibald Clavering Gunter, author of Mr. Barnes of New York, who had a publishing house for his own books. He immediately made me an offer for The Chief Factor. I hesitated, because I had been dealing with great firms like Harpers, and, to my youthful mind, it seemed rather beneath my dignity to have the imprint of so new a firm as the Home Publishing Company on the title-page of my book. I asked the advice of Mr. Walter H. Page, then editor of The Forum, now one of the proprietors of The World's Work and Country Life, and he instantly said: "What difference does it make who publishes your book? It is the public you want."
I did not hesitate any longer. The Chief Factor went to Mr. Archibald Clavering Gunter and the Home Publishing Company, and they made a very large sale of it. I never cared for the book however; it seemed stilted and amateurish, though some of its descriptions and some of its dialogues were, I think, as good as I can do; so, eventually, in the middle nineties, I asked Mr. Gunter to sell me back the rights in the book and give me control of it. This he did. I thereupon withdrew it from publication at once, and am not including it in this subscription edition. I think it better dead. But the writing of it taught me better how to write The Trail of the Sword; though, if I had to do this book again, I could construct it better.
I think it fresh and very vigorous, and I think it does not lack distinction, while a real air of romance--of refined romance--pervades it. But I know that Mr. W. E. Henley was right when, after most generously helping me to revise it, with a true literary touch wonderfully intimate and affectionate, he said to me: "It is just not quite big, but the next one will get home."
He was right. The Trail of the Sword is "just not quite," though I think it has charm; but it remained for The Seats of the Mighty to get home, as "W. E. H.", the most exacting, yet the most generous, of critics, said.
This book played a most important part in a development of my literary work, and the warm reception by the public--for in England it has been through its tenth edition, and in America through proportionate thousands--was partly made possible by the very beautiful illustrations which accompanied its publication in The Illustrated London News. The artist was A. L. Forestier, and never before or since has my work received such distinguished pictorial exposition, save, perhaps, in The Weavers, when Andre Castaigne did such triumphant work. It is a joy still to look at the illustrations of The Trail of the Sword, for, absolutely faithful to the time, they add a note of verisimilitude to the tale.