Old Fritz and the New Era

Author: Luise Mühlbach


I would merely say a few words in justification of the Historical Romance, in its relation to history. Any one, with no preceding profound study of history, who takes a few well-known historical facts as a foundation for an airy castle of romantic invention and fantastic adventure, may easily write an Historical Romance; for him history is only the nude manikin which he clothes and adorns according to his own taste, and to which he gives the place and position most agreeable to himself. But only the writer who is in earnest with respect to historical truth, who is not impelled by levity or conceited presumption, is justified in attempting this species of composition; thoroughly impressed with the greatness of his undertaking, he will with modest humility constantly remember that he has proposed to himself a great and sublime work which, however, it will be difficult if not impossible for him wholly and completely to accomplish.

But what is this great, this sublime end, which the Historical Romance writer proposes to attain? It is this: to illustrate history, to popularize it; to bring forth from the silent studio of the scholar and to expose in the public market of life, for the common good, the great men and great deeds embalmed in history, and of which only the studious have hitherto enjoyed the monopoly. Thus, at least, have I considered the vocation I have chosen, not vainly or inconsiderately, but with a profound conviction of the greatness of my undertaking, and with a depressing consciousness that my power and acquirements may prove inadequate for the attainment of my proposed end.

But I am also fully conscious of what was and still is my greatest desire: to give an agreeable and popular form to our national history, which may attract the attention and affections of our people, which may open their understandings to the tendencies of political movements, and connect the facts of history with the events of actual life.

The severe historian has to do but with accomplished facts; he can only record and describe, with the strictest regard to truth, that which has outwardly occurred. He describes the battles of peoples, the struggles of nations, the great deeds of heroes, the actions of princes—in short, he gives the accomplished facts. To investigate and explain the secret motives, the hidden causes of these facts, to present them in connection with all that impelled to them, this is the task of Historical Romance.

The historian presents to you the outward face, the external form of history; Historical Romance would show you the heart of history, and thus bring near to your heart what, else, would stand so far off. To enable him to do this, the writer of an Historical Romance must, indeed, make severe and various studies. He must devote his whole mind and soul to the epoch he would illustrate, he must live in it and feel with it. He must so familiarize himself with all the details, as in a manner to become a child of that epoch; for he can present a really living image of only that which is living in himself. That this requires a deep and earnest study of history is self-evident. Historical Romance demands the study of the historian, together with the creative imagination of the poet. For the free embodiment of the poet can blossom only from out the studio of the historian, as the flower from the seed; as, by a reciprocal organic action, the hyacinth is derived from the onion, and the rose from its seed-capsule, so are history and poetry combined in the Historical Romance, giving and receiving life to and from each other.

The Historical Romance has its great task and its great justification—a truth disputed by only those who either have not understood or will not understand its nature.

The Historical Romance has, if I may be allowed so to speak, four several objects for which to strive:

Its first object is, to throw light upon the dark places of history, necessarily left unclear by the historian. Poetry has the right and duty of setting facts in a clear light, and of illuminating the darkness by its sunny beams. The poetry of the romance writer seeks to deduce historical characteristics from historical facts, and to draw from the spirit of history an elucidation of historical characters, so that the writer may be able to detect their inmost thoughts and feelings, and in just and sharp traits to communicate them to others.

The second task of Historical Romance is, to group historical characters according to their internal natures, and thus to elucidate and illustrate history. This illustration then leads to the third task, which is the discovery and exposition of the motives which impel individual historical personages to the performance of great historical acts, and from outwardly, apparently insignificant events in their lives to deduce their inmost thoughts and natures, and represent them clearly to others.

Thence follows the fourth task: the illustration of historical facts by a romance constructed in the spirit of the history. This fourth and principal task is the presentation of history in a dramatic form and with animated descriptions; upon the foundation of history to erect the temple of poesy, which must nevertheless be pervaded and illuminated by historic truth. From this it naturally follows that it is of very little consequence whether the personages of the Historical Romance actually spoke the words or performed the acts attributed to them; it is only necessary that those words and deeds should be in accordance with the spirit and character of such historical personages, and that the writer should not attribute to them what they could not have spoken or done. In the Historical Romance, when circumstances or events are presented in accordance with historical tradition, when the characters are naturally described, they bear with them their own justification, and Historical Romance has need of no further defence.

Historical Romance should be nothing but an illustration of history. If the drawing, grouping, coloring, and style of such an illustration of any given historical epoch are admitted to be true, then the illustration rises to the elevation of a work of art, worthy of a place beside the historical picture, and is equally useful.

Raphael’s "School of Athens," his "Institution of the Communion," and many others of his pictures, are such illustrations of history— as also the great paintings of Rubens from the life of Anna dei Medici; and then the historical pictures of Horace Vernet, of Delaroche, of Lessing, and of Kaulbach—all these are illustrations of history. What those artists present and illustrate with paint and pencil, the Historical Romancer represents in words with his pen; and when he does this successfully, he will live in the memory of his reader as imperishably as the great historical pictures of the painters in the memory of their beholders.

It would occur to no one to accuse a successful historical picture of falsehood, because the books of history do not show that the occurrence took place precisely in the manner represented, that the historical personages really so laughed or wept, or so deported themselves. If the situation and grouping of historical events are allowed to be in accordance with the general tenor of history, then the picture may be pronounced historically true, and is just as good a piece of history as the record of the special historian. It is the same with the pictures of the romancer as with those of the painter; and this is my answer to those who, on every occasion, are continually asking: "Was it really thus? Did it really occur in that manner?"

Show me from history that it could not be so; that it is not in accordance with the character of the persons represented—then I will confess that I am wrong, and you are right; then have I not presented an illustration, but only a caricature of history, faulty as a work of art, and wanting the dignity of truth.

I am conscious of having earnestly and devotedly striven for the truth, and of having diligently sought it in all attainable historical works. The author of an Historical Romance has before him a difficult task: while he must falsify nothing in history, he must poetize it in a manner that both historical and poetic truth shall be the result. To those, however, who so very severely judge Historical Romance, and would deny its historical worth, I now, in conclusion, answer with the following significant quotation from Schiller:

"I shall always prove a bad resource for any future historian who may have the misfortune to recur to me. History is generally only a magazine for my fantasy, and objects must be contented with whatever they may become under my hand."—(See Weisnar’s "Musenhof," p. 93.)

This declaration of Schiller satisfies me with respect to the nature of my own creations. I desire not to be a resource for historical writers, but I shall always earnestly and zealously seek to draw from the wells of history, that nothing false or unreal may find a place in the "magazine of my fantasy."



BERLIN, September 22, 1866.


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Foreword," Old Fritz and the New Era, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in Old Fritz and the New Era (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed September 29, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4T41KULKN88D5P3.

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Foreword." Old Fritz and the New Era, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in Old Fritz and the New Era, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 29 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4T41KULKN88D5P3.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Foreword' in Old Fritz and the New Era, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Old Fritz and the New Era, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 29 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4T41KULKN88D5P3.