Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Writing of a Romance
By Robert Boyle (16271691)
From The Martyrdom of Theodora
BUT, upon further thoughts, I soon foresaw that this task was not more worthy to be undertaken than it would prove difficult to be well performed; for the martyrologist being allowed scarce one whole page to a relation that perhaps merited a volume, had left so many chasms, and so many necessary things unmentioned, that I plainly perceived I wanted a far greater number of circumstances than that he had supplied me with, to make up so maimed a story tolerably complete. And as the relation denied me matter enough to work upon, so the nature of the subject refused most of those embellishments, which in other themes, where young gallants and fair ladies are the chief actors, are wont to supply the deficiencies of the matter. Besides, my task was not near so easy, as it would have been, if I had been only to recite the intrigues of an amour, with the liberty to feign surprising adventures to adorn the historical part of the account, and to make a lover speak as passionately as I could, and his mistress as kindly as the indulgentest laws of decency would permit. But I was to introduce a Christian and a pious lover, who was to contain the expressions of his flame within the narrow bounds of his religion; and a virgin, who, being as modest and discreet as handsome, and as devout as either, was to own an high esteem for an excellent lover, and an uncommon gratitude to a transcendent benefactor, without entrenching either upon her virtue, or her reservedness. And I perceived the difficulty of my task would be increased, by that of reconciling Theodoras scrupulousness to the humours of some young persons of quality of either sex, who were earnest to engage my pen on this occasion, and would expect, that I should make Theodora more kind, than I thought her great piety and strict modesty would permit. But for all this, the esteem that I had for the fair martyrs excellences, and the compliance I had for those, that desired to receive an account of so rare a persons actions and sufferings, made me resolve to try what I could do; which I adventured upon with the less reluctancy, because, though I esteemed it a kind of profaneness to transform a piece of martyrology into a romance, yet I thought it allowable enough, where a narrative was written so concisely, and left so imperfect, as that I had to descant upon, to make such supplements of circumstances, as were not improbable in the nature of the thing, and were little less than necessary to the clearness and entireness of the story, and the decent connection of the parts it should consist of. I supposed too, that I need not scruple to lend speeches to the persons I brought upon the stage, provided they were suitable to the speakers, and occasions; since I was warranted by the examples of Livy, Plutarch, and other grave and judicious historians, who make no scruple to give us set orations of their own framing, and sometimes put them into the mouths of generals at the head of their armies, just going to give battle; though at such times the hurry and distraction that both they and their auditors must be in, must make it very unlikely, either that they should make elaborate speeches, or their hearers mind and remember them well enough to repeat them to the historians.