« AnteriorContinuar »
it shall appear,
THERE are some subjects on which a writer must decline all attempts to acquire fame, satisfied with being obscurely useful. After such a number of Ro. inan Histories, in almost all languages, antient and modern, it would be but imposture to pretend new discoveries, or to expect to offer any thing in a work of this kind, which has not been often anticipated, by others. The facts which it relates have been an hundred times repeated, and every occurrence has been so variously considered, that learning can scarcely find a new anecdote, or genius give novelty to the old. I hope, therefore, for the reader's indulgence, if, in the following attempt, it shall that my only aim was to supply a concise, plain, and unaffected narrative of the Rise and Decline of a well-known empire. I was contented to make such a book as could not fail of being serviceable, though of all others the most unlikely to promote the reputation of the writer. Instead, therefore, of pressing forward among the ambitious, I only claim the merit of knowing my own strength, and falling back among
the hindmost ranks, with conscious inferiority. I am not ignorant, however, that it would be no difficult talk to pursue the same art by which many dull men, every day, acquire a reputation in History ; such might easily be attained, by fixing on some obscure period to write upon, where much seeming erudition might be displayed, almost unknown, because not worth remembering; and many maxims in politicks might be advanced entirely new, because altogether false. But I have pursued a contrary method, choosing the most noted period
in History, and offering no remarks but such as I thought strictly true.
The reasons of my choice were, that we had no history of this fplendid period in our language, but what was either too voluminous for common use, or too meanly written to please. Catrou and Rouille's history in fix volumes folio, translated into our language by Bundy, is entirely unsuited to the time and expence mankind usually choose to bestow upon this subject : Rollin and his continuator Crevier, niaking nearly thirty volumes octavo, seem to labour under the fame imputation ; as likewise Hooke, who has spent three quartos upon the Republic alone, the rest of his undertaking remaining unfinished *. There only, therefore, remained the history by Echard, in five volumes octavo, whose plan and mine seemed to coincide ; and had his execution been equal to his design, it had precluded the present undertaking. But the truth is, it is so poorly written, the facts fo crowded, the narration so spiritless, and the characters so indistinctly marked, that the most ardent curiofity must cool in the perusal; and the nobleft transactions that ever warmed the human heart, as described by him, must cease to interest.
I have endeavoured, therefore, in the present. work, or rather compilation, to obviate the inconveniences arising from the exuberance of the foriner, as well as from the unpleasantness of the latter. It was fupposed, that two volumnes might be made to comprize all that was requisite to be known, or pleasing to be read, by such as only examined History, to prepare them for more important stụdies. Too much time may
be given even to laudable pursuits, and * Mr. Hooke's three quartos above-mentioned reach only to the end of the Gallic war. A fourth volume to the end of the Republic, was afterwards published in 1771. Dr. Goldsmith's preface was written in 1769. Mr. Hooke's quarto edition has been republished in eleven volumes octavo. 4
there is none more apt than this, to allure the stu-, dent from the necessary branches of learning, and, if I may so express it, entirely to engross his industry. What is here offered, therefore, may be sufficient for all, except such who make history the peculiar business of their lives ; to such the most tedious narrative will seem but an abridgement, as they measure the merits of a work, rather by the quantity than the quality of its contents : others, however, who think more foberly, will agree, that in so extensive a field as that of the transactions of Rome, more judgment may be shewn, by selecting what is important than by adding what is obscure.
The history of this empire has been extended to fix volumes folio; and I aver, that with very little learning, it might be increased to fixteen more, but what would this be, but to load the subject with unimportant facts, and so to weaken the narration, that, like the empire described, it must necessarily fink beneath the weight of its own acquisitions.
But while I thus endeavoured to avoid prolixity, it was found no eafy matter to prevent crowding the facts, and to give every narrative its proper play. In reality, no art can contrive to avoid opposite defects; he, who indulges in minute particularities, will be often languid; and he who studies conciseness, will as frequently be dry and unentertaining. As it was my aim to comprize as much as possible in the smallest compass, it is feared the work will often be subject to the latter imputation, but it was impossible to furnish the public with a cheap Roman History in two volumes octavo, and at the same time to give all that warmth to the narrative, all those colourings to the description, which works of twenty times the bulk have room to exhibit. I shall be fully satisfied, therefore, if it furnishes an intereft fufficient to allure the reader to the end ; and