Alas! when in riper years we turned once more the dear old pages, something was wanting—something seemed amiss. The story was still interesting, still fascinating, but again and again we found ourselves sad at heart. Now it was the strange use of a word; then it was the unhappy turn of a phrase; again it was some marvelous incident related with a certain glowing enthusiasm which carried its writer beyond the confines of credibility, when there was no apparent reason either for invention or rhapsody.
As a natural consequence many lovers of Our Lady have been longing for just such a work as the publishers here present to us, possessing all the charm of the old version while retaining nothing that might make the judicious grieve. The writer of this new version has performed a difficult task with that sureness of touch which comes from long literary experience and with that refinement of sympathy which betokens the labor of love. The greatest care has been taken to correct some errors in geographical situations and bring the whole narrative of events into strict conformity with Biblical facts. Texts of Scripture, which in the old version were translated directly from the French, are here given in the more familiar words of our own Bible, and the whole work, while adhering as closely as possible to the original, is presented in a new dress, worthy of the advance which has been made in Catholic literature during the last twenty years. Hence it is now a real prose poem that can be read and enjoyed by young and old alike, with never a fear that any page will cause the most critical to wish it had been written in a vein of less imaginative fervor.
The Abbe Gerbet's delicate flowers of fancy, however, have not all been cast away. There was no need for such ruthless destruction. Where his imaginative passages apparently served no very useful purpose and where expressions, however spiritually refined, gave forth no perfume of true devotion, they have been gently but firmly laid aside. But where his happy thoughts could be justly considered as permissible accompaniments and artistic adornments for a proper setting of essential truths, they have been lovingly retained. And this is as it should be.
Some of the saints were called upon to perform heroic deeds that were seen by all men, and attracted even unsympathetic hearts to express some sort of admiration, however grudgingly given. But the extraordinary virtues of other holy souls were so hidden away from the eyes of the world that even our feeblest effort to show them forth in words must needs call the language of imagination to its aid. All artists are born, not made. Genius is a gift of God and should find its noblest expression in making known the love, the wisdom and the omnipotence of our Father in heaven, whether they be manifested in the wondrous beauty of simple nature, the spiritual loveliness of human souls, or the heroic greatness of human deeds. The lives of God's chosen ones, therefore, should not be mere prosy statements of bald facts. Truth as presented by a matter-of-fact delver into dusty records is useful and necessary in its proper place. Truth as presented by an artist is still truth, absolute and unstained, but illuminated, glorified and indued with new power to warm the affections, strengthen the will and inspire the mind of man.
Such was the noble purpose which inspired the Abbe Gerbet to compose The Lily of Israel and such was the holy purpose which prompted the preparation of this appealingly beautiful new version. May it meet with a warm welcome from all true lovers of our blessed Lady, and may it enkindle in the hearts of all readers a warmer, sweeter and deeper love for our divine Lord, His immaculate Virgin Mother and His saintly foster-father here on earth.
St. Gabriel's Rectory, New York.
September 21st, 1916.