The story which I have here put into a dramatic form is one familiar to Romanists, and perfectly and circumstantially authenticated. Abridged versions of it, carefully softened and sentimentalised, may be read in any Romish collection of Lives of the Saints. An enlarged edition has been published in France, I believe by Count Montalembert, and translated, with illustrations, by an English gentleman, which admits certain miraculous legends, of later date, and, like other prodigies, worthless to the student of human character. From consulting this work I have hitherto abstained, in order that I might draw my facts and opinions, entire and unbiassed, from the original Biography of Elizabeth, by Dietrich of Appold, her contemporary, as given entire by Canisius.
Dietrich was born in Thuringia, near the scene of Elizabeth’s labours, a few years before her death; had conversed with those who had seen her, and calls to witness ‘God and the elect angels,’ that he had inserted nothing but what he had either understood from religious and veracious persons, or read in approved writings, viz. ’The Book of the Sayings of Elizabeth’s Four Ladies (Guta, Isentrudis, and two others)’; ’The Letter which Conrad of Marpurg, her Director, wrote to Pope Gregory the Ninth’ (these two documents still exist); ‘The Sermon of Otto’ (de Ordine Praedic), which begins thus: ‘Mulierem fortem.’
‘Not satisfied with these,’ he ’visited monasteries, castles, and towns, interrogated the most aged and veracious persons, and wrote letters, seeking for completeness and truth in all things;’ and thus composed his biography, from which that in Surius (Acta Sanctorum), Jacobus de Voragine, Alban Butler, and all others which I have seen, are copied with a very few additions and many prudent omissions.
Wishing to adhere strictly to historical truth, I have followed the received account, not only in the incidents, but often in the language which it attributes to its various characters; and have given in the Notes all necessary references to the biography in Canisius’s collection. My part has therefore been merely to show how the conduct of my heroine was not only possible, but to a certain degree necessary, for a character of earnestness and piety such as hers, working under the influences of the Middle Age.
In deducing fairly, from the phenomena of her life, the character of Elizabeth, she necessarily became a type of two great mental struggles of the Middle Age; first, of that between Scriptural or unconscious, and Popish or conscious, purity: in a word, between innocence and prudery; next, of the struggle between healthy human affection, and the Manichean contempt with which a celibate clergy would have all men regard the names of husband, wife, and parent. To exhibit this latter falsehood in its miserable consequences, when received into a heart of insight and determination sufficient to follow out all belief to its ultimate