Nothing is worth reading unless it is true. That is an axiom that applies to fiction as well as fact. Mr. Sabatini, in his latest volume of "The Historical Nights' Entertainment" has recognized one phase of this axiom. In his preface he says, "I set out again with the same ambitious aim of adhering scrupulously in every instance to actual recorded facts," and he notes a few trivial deviations from the facts of the incidents he depicts. But while he has been meticulous in his plots, he has deviated so far from the truth in his manner of presentation that the book fails utterly.
With the laudable desire to set before the public history as a pageant, great men and famous women acting out the world's story, Mr. Sabatini has selected incidents ranging in variety from Boris Gudonov's encounter with the pretended son of Ivan the Terrible to the betrayal of Sir Walter Raleigh. Then, in the manner of the more rabid of the Romantic school writers, he has moved his characters ranting bombastically, gesturing grandly through the scenes. He has robbed his characters of any individuality, and little traits of personality, and left them mere names.
Part of this failure can be explained through Mr. Sabatini's mode of presentation. He has chosen the most difficult of all modes--the direct. Torquemada speaks for Torquemada, fully and at length. The great men hold the center of the stage. Scott, Hugo, Dumas, all of the legion who have succeeded in popularizing history avoided this method as the devil. Minor figures, though principal characters in the story held the public eye, while the major figures in the world's history appeared and disappeared in the background. Yet there is more historical truth, more conviction, more delineation of character in Louis XI's treatment of Pierre Gringoire and in the Black Knight's actions in the lists below Rowena than in Buckingham's entire intrigue with Anne of Austria as set forth in twenty-four pages of Mr. Sabatini's accurate, documented, though colorless narrative.
Mr. Sabatini has forgotten that the manner of presentation can make fiction more true than fact, and fact more false than fiction. He has presented his series of short stories in a manner that will cause them to be forgotten before the printer's ink is dry on the pages. Meanwhile improbable novels with fictitious characters and silly plots will reserve rights of translation including the Scandinavian.