« ПретходнаНастави »
TO THE PUBLIC.
EXPERIENCE every day convinces us, that no part of learning affords so much wisdom upon such easy terms as History. Our advances in most other studies are slow and disgusting, acquired with effort, and retained with difficulty; but in a well written history every step we proceed only serves to increase our ardour: we profit by the experience of others, without sharing their toils or misfortunes; and in this part of knowledge, in a more particular manner, study is but relaxation.
Of all histories, however, that which, not confined to any particular reign or country, but which extends to the transactions of all mankind, is the most useful and entertaining. As in geography we can have no just idea of the situation of one country without knowing that of others, so in history it is in some measure necessary to be acquainted with the whole, thoroughly to comprehend a part. A knowledge of universal history is therefore highly useful, nor is it less entertaining. Tacitus complains, that the transactions of a few reigns could not afford him ą sufficient stock of materials to please or interest the reader; but here that objection is entirely removed; an History of the World presents the most striking events, with the greatest variety.
These are a part of the many advantages which universal history has over all others, and which have encouraged so many writers to attempt compiling works of this kind, among the ancients as well as the moderns. Each invited by the manifest utility of the design ; yet many of them failing through the great and unforeseen difficulties of the undertaking.
The barrenness of events in the early periods of history, and their fertility in modern times, equally serving to increase their embarrassments. In recounting the transactions of remote antiquity, there is such a defect of materials that the willingness of mankind to supply the chasm, has given birth to falshood and invited conjecture. The farther we look back into those distant periods, all the objects seem to become more obscure, or are totally lost, by a sort of perspective diminution. In this case, therefore, when the eye of truth could no longer discern clearly, fancy undertook to form the picture; and fables were invented where truths were wanting. For this reason we have declined enlarging on such disquisitions, not for want of materials, which offered themselves at every step of our progress, but because we thought them not worth discussing. Neither have we encumbered the beginning of our work with the various opinions of the heathen philosophers concerning the creation, which may be found in most of our systems of theology, and belong more properly to the divine than the historian. Sensible how liable we are to redundancy in this first part of our design, it has been our endeavour to unfold antient history with all possible conciseness; and solicitous to improve the reader's stock of knowledge, we have been indifferent as to the display of our own. We have not stopt to discuss or confute all the abşurd conjectures men of speculation have thrown in our way. We at first had even determined not to deform the page of truth with the names of those, whose labours had only been calculated to encumber it with fiction and vain speculation. However, we have thought proper, upon second thoughts, slightly to mention them and their opinions, quoting the author at the bottom of the page, so that the reader who is curious about such particularities, may know where to have recourse for fuller information.
As in the early part of history a want of real facts hath induced many to spin out the little that was known with conjecture, so in the modern part the superfluity of trifling anecdotes was equally apt to introduce confusion. In one case history has been rendered tedious from our want of knowing the truth, in the other from knowing too much of truth not worth our notice. Every year that is added to the age of the world, serves to lengthen the thread of its history; so that to give this branch of learning a just length in the circle of human pursuits, it is necessary to abridge several of the least important facts. It is true, we often at present see the annals of a single reign, or even the transactions of a single year, occupying folios: but can the writers of such tedious journals ever hope to reach posterity, or do they think that our descendants, whose attention will naturally be turned to their own concerns, can exhaust so much time in the examination of ours? A plan of general history rendered too extensive, deters us from a study that is perhaps of all others the most useful, by rendering it too laborious; and instead of alluring our curiosity, excites our despair. Writers are unpardonable who convert our amusement into labour, and divest knowledge of one of its most pleasing allurements. The ancients have represented History under the figure of a woman, easy, graceful, and inviting; but we have seen her in our days converted, like the virgin of Nabis, into an instrument of torture.
How far we have retrenched these excesses, and steered between the opposites of exuberance and abridgement, the judicious are left to determine. We here offer the public an History of Mankind from the earliest accounts of time to the present age, in twelve volumes, which, upon mature deliberation, appeared to us the proper mean. It has been
our endeavour to give every fact its full scope; but at the same time to retrench all disgusting superfluity, to give every object the due proportion it ought to maintain in the general picture of mankind, without crowding. the canvas. We hope, therefore, that the reader will here see the revolutions of empires without confusion, and trace arts and laws from one kingdom to another, without losing his interest in the narrative of their other transactions. To attain these ends with greater certainty of success, we have taken care in some measure to banish that late, and we may add gothic practice of using a multiplicity of notes; a thing as much unknown to the ancient historians as it is disgusting in the moderns. Balzac somewhere calls vain erudition the baggage of antiquity; might we in turn be permitted to make an apophthegm, we would call notes the baggage of a bad writer. It certainly argues a defect of method, or a want of perspicuity, when an author is thus obliged to write notes upon his own works; and it may assuredly be said, that whoever undertakes to write a comment upon himself, will for ever remain, without a rival, his own commentator. We have therefore lopped off such excrescencies, though not to any degree of affectation; as sometimes an acknowledged blemish may be admitted intoworks of skill, either tocover a greater defect, or to take a nearer course to beauty. Having mentioned the danger of affectation, it may be proper to observe, that as this of all defects is most apt to insinuate itself into such a work, we have therefore been upon our guard against it. Innovation in a performance of this nature should by no means be attempted: those names and spellings which have been used in our language for time immemorial ought to continue unaltered; for, like states, they acquire a sort of jus diuturna possesșionis, as the civilians express it, however unjust their original claims might have been.
With respect to chronology and geography, the one of which fixes actions to time, while the other assigns them to place, we have followed the most approved methods among the moderns. All that was requisite in this, was to preserve one system of each invariably, and permit such as chose to adopt the plans of others, to rectify our deviations to their own standard. If actions and things are made to preserve their due distances of time and place mutually with respect to each other, it matters little as to the duration of them all with respect to eternity, or their situation with regard to the universe.
Thus much we have thought proper to premise concerning a work which, however executed, has cost much labour and great expence. Had we for our judges the unbiassed and the judicious alone, few words would have served, or even silence would have been our best address; but when it is considered that we have laboured for the public, that miscellaneous being, at variance within itself, from the differing influence of pride, prejudice or incapacity; a public already sated with attempts of this nature, and in a manner unwilling to find out merit till forced upon its notice; we hope to be pardoned for thus endeavouring to shew where it is presumed we have had a superiority. An History of the World to the present time, at once satisfactory and succinct, calculated rather for use than curiosity, to be read rather than consulted, seeking applause from the reader's feelings, not from his ignorance of learning, or affectation of being thought learned; an History that may be purchased at an easy expence, yet that omits nothing material, delivered in a style correct, yet familiar, was wanting in our language; and though sensible of our own insufficiency, this defect we have