Uncle Christian’s Inheritance
A Night In The Woods:—
PRELIMINARY NOTE BY THE TRANSLATOR.
It has often been remarked, with perfect justice, that the eminent French writers, a translation of one of whose works is here attempted, are singularly faithful in their adherence to historic truth. Remove the thread of obvious fiction which is indispensable to make these admirable productions romances or tales, and what we have left is perfectly reliable history. It is this feature mainly which gives the indescribable charm to their historical tales—a charm powerfully realised in the original, though less appreciable in an imperfect translation.
The same claim to perfect truthfulness in all essential points may be placed to the credit of the following “Roman Populaire,” notwithstanding the startling supernatural element on which the story is founded. Erckmann-Chatrian have not thought it right or necessary to depart in this case from their practice of abstaining from all prefaces or notes in every edition of their works. Yet perhaps the translator may be forgiven, and even condoned with thanks, if he ventures upon an explanation tending to show that the tale of Hugh the Wolf is not entirely founded upon superstition and the supernatural.
“Let his heart be changed from man’s, and let a beast’s heart be given unto him!” Such was the sentence pronounced and executed upon him of Babylon whose pride called for abasement from the Lord. Dr. Mead (Medica Sacra, p. 59) observes that there was known among the ancients a mental disorder called lycanthropy, the victims of which fancied themselves wolves, and went about howling and attacking and tearing sheep and young children (Aetius, Lib. Med. vi., Paul AEgineta, iii. 16). So, again, Virgil tells of the daughters of Praetus, who fancied themselves to be cows, and running wildly about the pastures, “implerunt falsis mugitibus agros.”—Ecl. vi. 48. This horrible disease appears happily to have been a rare one, and recoveries from it have taken place, for it is not destructive of the sufferer’s life. It has even been thoroughly cured after a lapse of many years.