Does it need one?
If so it must also come from those members of the Blakeney family in whose veins runs the blood of that Sir Percy Blakeney who is known to history as the Scarlet Pimpernel-- for they in a manner are responsible for the telling of this veracious chronicle.
For the past eight years now-- ever since the true story of The Scarlet Pimpernel was put on record by the present author-- these gentle, kind, inquisitive friends have asked me to trace their descent back to an ancestor more remote than was Sir Percy, to one in fact who by his life and by his deeds stands forth from out the distant past as a conclusive proof that the laws which govern the principles of heredity are as unalterable as those that rule the destinies of the universe. They have pointed out to me that since Sir Percy Blakeney's was an exceptional personality, possessing exceptional characteristics which his friends pronounced sublime and his detractors arrogant-- he must have had an ancestor in the dim long ago who was, like him, exceptional, like him possessed of qualities which call forth the devotion of friends and rancour of enemies. Nay, more! there must have existed at one time or another a man who possessed that sunny disposition, that same irresistible laughter, that same careless insouciance and adventurous spirit which were subsequently transmitted to his descendants, of whom the Scarlet Pimpernel himself was the most distinguished individual.
All these were unanswerable arguments, and with the request that accompanied then I had long intended to comply. Time has been my only enemy in thwarting my intentions until now-- time and the multiplicity of material and documents to be gone through ere vague knowledge could be turned into certitude.
Now at last I am in a position to present not only to the Blakeneys themselves, but to all those who look on the Scarlet Pimpernel as their hero and their friend--the true history of one of his most noted forebears.
Strangely enough his history has never been written before. And yet countless millions must during the past three centuries have stood before his picture; we of the present generation, who are the proud possessors of that picture now, have looked on him many a time, always with sheer, pure joy in our hearts, our lips smiling, our eyes sparkling in response to his; almost forgetting the genius of the artist who protrayed him in the very realism of the personality which literally seems to breathe and palpitate and certainly to laugh to us out of the canvas.
Those twinkling eyes! how well we know them! that laugh! we can almost hear it; as for the swagger, the devil-may-care arrogance, do we not condone it, seeing that it has its mainspring behind a fine straight brow whose noble, sweeping lines betray an undercurrent of dignity and of thought.
And yet no biographer has-- so far as is known to the author of this veracious chronicle-- ever attempted to tell us anything of this man's life, no one has attempted hitherto to lift the veil of anonymity which only thinly hides the identity of the Laughing Cavalier.
But here in Haarlem-- in the sleepy, yet thriving little town where he lived, the hard-frozen ground in winter seems at times to send forth a memory-echo of his firm footstep, of the jingling of his spurs, and the clang of his sword, and the old gate of the Spaarne through which he passed so often is still haunted with the sound of his merry laughter, and his pleasant voice seems still to rouse the ancient walls from their sleep.
Here too-- hearing these memory-echoes whenever
the shadows of evening draw in on the quaint city-- I had a dream. I
saw him just as he lived, three hundred years ago. He had
stepped out of the canvas in London, had crossed the sea and was
walking the streets of Haarlem just as he had done then, filling
them with his swagger, with his engaging personality,
above all with his laughter. And sitting beside me in the old tavern of the "Lame Cow," in that self-same tap-room where he was wont to make merry, he told me the history of his life.
Since then kind friends at Haarlem have placed documents in my hands which confirmed the story told me by the Laughing Cavalier. To them do I tender my heartfelt and grateful thanks. But it is to the man himself-- to the memory of him which is so alive here in Haarlem-- that I am indebted for the true history of his life, and therefore I feel that but little apology is needed for placing the true facts before all those who have known him hitherto only by his picture, who have loved him only for what they guessed.
The monograph which I now present with but
few additions of minor details, goes to prove what I myself had
known long ago, namely, that the Laughing Cavalier who sat to
Frans Hal for his portrait in 1624 was the direct ancestor of
Sir Percy Blakeney, known to history as the Scarlet Pimpernel.