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This work is called a 'romance,' because the incidents, characters, time, and scenery, are alike romantic. And in shaping this old tale, the Writer neither dares, nor desires, to claim for it the dignity or cumber it with the difficulty of an historic novel.
And yet he thinks that the outlines are filled in more carefully, and the situations (however simple) more warmly coloured and quickened, than a reader would expect to find in what is called a 'legend.'
And he knows that any son of Exmoor, chancing on this volume, cannot fail to bring to mind the nurse-tales of his childhood--the savage deeds of the outlaw Doones in the depth of Bagworthy Forest, the beauty of the hapless maid brought up in the midst of them, the plain John Ridd's Herculean power, and (memory's too congenial food) the exploits of Tom Faggus.
Author's Preface to the Sixth Edition:
Few things have surprised me more, and nothing has more pleased me, than the great success of this simple tale.
For truly it is a grand success to win the attention and kind regard, not of the general public only, but also of those who are at home with the scenery, people, life, and language, wherein a native cannot always satisfy the natives.
Therefore any son of Devon may imagine, and will not grudge, the Writer's delight at hearing from a recent visitor to the west that '"Lorna Doone,' to a Devonshire man, is as good as clotted cream, almost!"
Although not half so good as that, it has entered many a tranquil, happy, pure, and hospitable home, and the author, while deeply grateful for this genial reception, ascribes it partly to the fact that his story contains no word or thought disloyal to its birthright in the fairest county of England.
In putting this new and somewhat elaborate edition of "Lorna Doone" upon a market already supplied with various others, some of them excellent in quality, we ask the literary men and women of the country to give us their kind support for the reasons set forth herewith.
In the first place, it seems to us that of the countless thousands of books that have been written in all the various languages, and during the many ages since first man took to scribbling, no one has ever yet appeared which is the equal of this in its delicate and beautiful touches of both nature and human nature. We have had, in various ways, abundant proof that our feeling in this respect is not individual to ourselves, and we desire to thank heartily the many friends who have sent us their words and letters of encouragement, sympathy, and interest during the past year as they have by chance become aware of our plans.
While there were creditable editions already published, the fact that none existed just such as we ourselves wished for our own library was our primary incentive in undertaking this task. The labor upon which we entered was in short, one of love, and great as has been the expenditure of time, trouble, and money in the preparation of this book, we have faith to believe that there are a sufficient number of lovers of the peerless maiden, Lorna, to greet her appearance in this new dress with an enthusiasm that will in time repay us.
We earnestly hope that our judgment in the selection of artists, means, and materials has been, in the main, at least, wise, and that such, will be the verdict of book-lovers. Also, we hope that our lack of experience as publishers will disarm the critic, and that he will examine the book regarding only the excellences which he may find, and passing over its defects.
One special feature we wish particularly to call to the attention of all, and that is the beautiful map of the country we have introduced. This may be regarded by some as an innovation in a romance, but we hope that it will be found such a manifest convenience as to be its own sufficient excuse.
Preface by Miss Katharine Hillard, Author Of The Doones Of Exmoor
A novel that has stood the test of time so well as Mr. Blackmore's charming story of "Lorna Doone" scarcely needs a preface. Certainly no word of introduction is necessary to testify to its exquisite humor, its dramatic force, its under-current of poetic feeling, its fine touches of landscape-painting, and the novelty and interest of its subject. Since it first appeared in 1869 all these have become as household words, only, perhaps, all the admirers of "Lorna Doone" have not had the good fortune to wander through the romantic and picturesque region where the scene of the story is laid. To travel in North Devon, and over its border into Somerset ("the Summerland," as the old Northmen call it), is to be confronted with the scenes of the novel at every turn; for Mr. Blackmore has so successfully woven the legends of the whole countryside into his story that one grows to believe it a veritable history, and is as disappointed to find traces of the romancer's own hand here and there as to find the hills and valleys laid bare of the forests which adorned them in the time of the Doones.
It is a singular country, this Devonshire coast, made up as it is of a series of rocky headlands jutting far out into the sea, and holding between their stretching arms deep fertile wooded valleys called _combes_ (pronounced _coomes_), watered by trout and salmon streams, and filled with an Italian profusion of vegetation, myrtles and fuchsias, growing in the open air, and the walls hidden with a luxuriant tapestry of ferns and ivies and blossoming vines. Even the roofs are covered with flowers; every cranny bears a blossom or a tuft of green. Then above, long stretches of barren heath (with a few twisted and wind-tortured trees), where the sheep pasture and the sky-lark sings, and in and out of the red-fronted cliffs the querulous sea-gulls flash in the sunshine, and make their plaintive moan. Near Lynton there is the famous Valley of Rocks, where the wise woman, _Mother Melldrum_, had her winter quarters under the Devil's Cheese-wring.
The irregular pile of rocks that goes by this name is wrongly called Cheese-_ring_ (or _scoop_) in some editions of "Lorna Doone," instead of Cheese-_wring_ or (_press_), which it somewhat resembles in shape. Southey began the fortune of Lynton as a watering-place, and wrote a glowing description of the village and the Valley of Rocks. Of the latter he says: "A palace of the pre-Adamite kings, a city of the Anakim must have appeared so shapeless and yet so like the ruins of what had been shaped after the waters of the flood subsided." Great bowlders, half hidden by the bracken, lie about in wildest confusion; the remains of what seem to be Druidic circles can be traced here and there, and it is hard to persuade one's self that the ragged towers and picturesque piles of rock are not the work of Cyclopean architects.
"Our home-folk always call it the 'Danes,' or the 'Denes,' which is no more, they tell me, than a hollow place, even as the word 'den' is," says _John Ridd_. "It is a pretty place," he adds, "though nothing to frighten any body, unless he hath lived in a gallipot." The valley is well protected from the wind, and "there is shelter and dry fern-bedding and folk to be seen in the distance from a bank whereon the sun shines." Here _John Ridd_ came to consult the wise woman toward the end of March, while the weather was still cold and piercing. In the warm days of summer she lived "in a pleasant cave facing the cool side of the hill, far inland, near Hawkridge, and close over Tarr-steps--a wonderful crossing of Barle River, made (as every body knows) by Satan for a wager." But the antiquarians of to-day assert that the curious steps were made by the early British.
Not far beyond the Valley of Rocks are the grounds of Ley Abbey, a modern mansion, but occupying the site of Lev Manor, to whose owner, _Baron de Whichehalse, John Ridd_ accompanies _Master Huckaback_ in search of a warrant against the _Doones_. In fact, all the way from Barnstaple over the parapet of whose bridge _Tom Faggus_ leaped his wonderful mare, every nook and corner of the countryside teems with legends of the _Doones_. From Lynton we drive over the border into Porlock, in Somerset that quaint little village where Coleridge wrote his "Kubla Khan," and where Lord Lovelace brought Ada Byron to his seat of Ashley Combe.
It was while riding home from Porlock market that _John Ridd's_ father was murdered by the _Doones_, and from Porlock we drove in a pony-trap over the high moors to Malmsmead, in search of the ruined huts of the _Doones_.
Over the heights of Yarner Moor, and past Oare Ford (now bridged over), the road lay past the old church of Oare, where _Lorna Doone_ and _John Ridd_ were married, and then into the deep flowery lanes that are the glory of Devon and Somerset. Malmsmead proved to be a little cluster of heavily thatched cottages, nestled under overhanging trees, where stood an ancient signboard with "Ba_d_gworthy" on one of its arms, pointing the way we should go. This _d_ on the old sign-board accounted for the local pronunciation of _Badgery_, as the river is always called.
At Malmsmead the road ends, and thence one must proceed on foot. Several deep and flowery lanes lead one at length to the river where a lonely stone cottage stands on its further brink. This is Clowd Farm, and here all paths cease. Two hundred years ago, in the time of the _Doones_, the narrow valley through which the Bagworthy now dances in the open sunshine was filled with trees; but now, with the exception of a withered and stunted old orchard and grove near the farm, there is not a tree to be seen, and the Bagworthy, a lonely but cheerful trout stream, rattles along in the broad sunshine through a deep valley, whose sides slope steeply upward.
After walking about three miles into the heart of the wilderness, another deep glen, shut in by the same sloping heather-covered hills, suddenly opens to the right. There are no cliffs, no overhanging trees, not even a bush, but all along the stream, "with its soft, dark babble," lie heaps and half-circles of stone nearly buried in the turf, and almost hidden by the tall ferns and foxgloves. And this is what we went out for to see! These are the ruins of the _Doones'_ huts. There could not be anything more disappointing. Two hundred years have effectually destroyed all distinctive traits, and they might have been sheep-folds or pig-sties, or any other innocent agricultural erection for aught that we could tell. "Not a single house stood there but was the home of murder," says their historian. The suns and rains of two hundred and odd years have effectually washed out their blood-stains, and there is nothing left there but peace.
Some way beyond the ruins stands a small stone cottage of the most modern order. We found it to be the abode of a shepherd, away with his flock on the hills, but his wife, no shepherdess of the Dresden china order, but a hearty and substantial dame, gave us a cordial welcome. She was in a state of intense delight at our disappointment about the ruins, and discussed the situation in that soft Somersetshire accent that gives such breadth and jollity to the language. "E'll not vind it a beet loike ta buik," she said, with her cheery laugh. "Buik's weel mad' up; it houlds 'ee loike, and 'ee can't put it by, but there's nobbut three pairts o't truth. Hunnerds cooms up here to se't," she added, with a chuckle.
The fact is that the traditional and the ideal are as inextricably mixed in this charming story of "Lorna Doone" as the thousand varieties of seeds in the fairy tale which the princess was expected to sort out, and it would be almost as difficult to separate them. Perhaps the best way, after all, is--not to try.
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