All this scarcely seems to have a place in the preface of a historical romance, and yet it is worthy of mention here; for there is something almost “providential” in the fact that it was reserved for the author of “An Egyptian Princess” to bestow the gift of this manuscript upon the scientific world. Among the characters in the novel the reader will meet an oculist from Sais, who wrote a book upon the diseases of the visual organs. The fate of this valuable work exactly agrees with the course of the narrative. The papyrus scroll of the Sais oculist, which a short time ago existed only in the imagination of the author and readers of “An Egyptian Princess,” is now an established fact. When I succeeded in bringing the manuscript home, I felt like the man who had dreamed of a treasure, and when he went out to ride found it in his path.
A reply to Monsieur Jules Soury’s criticism of “An Egyptian Princess” in the Revue des deux Mondes, Vol. VII, January 1875, might appropriately be introduced into this preface, but would scarcely be possible without entering more deeply into the ever-disputed question, which will be answered elsewhere, whether the historical romance is ever justifiable. Yet I cannot refrain from informing Monsieur Soury here that “An Egyptian Princess” detained me from no other work. I wrote it in my sick-room, before entering upon my academic career, and while composing it, found not only comfort and pleasure, but an opportunity to give dead scientific material a living interest for myself and others.
Monsieur Soury says romance is the mortal enemy of history; but this sentence may have no more justice than the one with which I think myself justified in replying: Landscape painting is the mortal enemy of botany. The historical romance must be enjoyed like any other work of art. No one reads it to study history; but many, the author hopes, may be aroused by his work to make investigations of their own, for which the notes point out the way. Already several persons of excellent mental powers have been attracted to earnest Egyptological researches by “An Egyptian Princess.” In the presence of such experiences, although Monsieur Soury’s clever statements appear to contain much that is true, I need not apply his remark that “historical romances injure the cause of science” to the present volume.
Leipzig, April 19, 1875.
Again a new edition of “An Egyptian Princess” has been required, and again I write a special preface because the printing has progressed so rapidly as unfortunately to render it impossible for me to correct some errors to which my attention was directed by the kindness of the well-known botanist, Professor Paul Ascherson of Berlin, who has travelled through Egypt and the Oases.