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with an author, whatever be the subject, to give vent to all his best thoughts: when he finds a proper place for them, he is peculiarly happy. But rather than sacrifice a thought he is fond of, he forces it in by way of digression, or superfluous illustration. If none of these expedients answer his purpose, he has recourse to the margin,-a very convenient apartment for all manner of pedantry and impertinence. There is not an author, however correct, but is more or less faulty in this respect. An abridger, however, is not subject to these temptations. The thoughts are not his own: he views them in a cooler and less affectionate manner; he discovers an impropriety in some, a vanity in others, and a want of utility in many. His business, therefore, is to retrench superfluities, digressions, quotations, pedantry, &c. and to lay before the public only what is really useful. This is by no means an easy employment: To abridge some books requires talents equal, if not superior, to those of the author. The facts, spirit, manner, and reasoning, must be preserved ; nothing essential, either in argument or illustration, ought to be omitted. The difficulty of the task is the principal reason why we have so few good abridgements. WYNNES abridgement of Lockes Essay on the Human Understanding is perhaps the only unexceptionable one in our language. These observations relate solely to such abridgements as are designed for the public. But,
When a person wants to set down the substance of any book, a shorter and less laborious method may be followed. It would be foreign to our plan to give examples of abridgements for the public: But, as it may
be useful, especially to young people, to know how to abridge books for their own use, after giving a few directions, we shall exhibit an example or two, to show with what ease it
may be done.
Read the book carefully ; endeavour to learn the principal view of the author; attend to the arguments employed : When you have done so, you will generally find, that what the author uses as new or additional arguments are, in reality, only collateral ones, or extensions of the principal argument. Take a piece of paper, or a common-place book, put down what the author wants to prove, subjoin the argument or arguments, and you have the substance of the book in a
few lines. For example, in his Essay on Miracles, Mr Humes design is to prove, • That miracles, which have not been the immediate objects of our senses, cannot reasonably be beliveved upon the testimony of others.' Now, his argument, for there happens to be but one, is,
• That experience, which in some things is variable, in others uniform, is our only guide in reasoning concerning matters of fact. A variable experience gives rise to probability only ; an uniform experience amounts to a proof. Our belief of any fact from the testimony of eye-witnesses is derived from no other principle than our experience in the veracity of human testimony. If the fact attested be miraculous, here arises a contest of two opposite experiences, or proof against proof. Now, a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as complete as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined ; and, if so, it is an undeniable consequence, that it cannot be surmounted by any proof whatever derived from human tes. timony.
In Dr Campbells Dissertation on Miracles, the authors principal aim is to show the fallacy of Mr Humes argument; which he has done most successfully by another single argument, as follows:
• The evidence arising from human testimony is not solely derived from experience: on the contrary, testimony hath a natural influence on belief, antecedent to experience. The early and unlimited assent given to testimony by children gradually contracts as they advance in life: It is, therefore, more consonant to truth to say, that our diffidence in testimony is the result of experience, than that our faith in it has this foundation. Besides, the uniformity of experience in favour of any fact is not a proof against its being reversed in a particular instance. The evidence arising from the single testimony of a man of-known veracity will go far to establish a belief in its being actually reversed: If his testimony be confirmed by a few others of the same character, we cannot withhold our consent to the truth of it. Now, though the operations of nature are governed by uniform laws, and though we have not the testimony of our senses in favour of any violation of them, still, if, in particular instances, we have the testimony of thousands of our fellow-creatures, and those too men of strict integrity, swayed by no motives of ambition or interest, and governed by the principles of common sense, That they were actually eye-witnesses of these violations,—the constitution of our nature obliges us to believe them.'
These two examples contain the substance of about 400 pages. Making private abridgements of this kind has many advantages : It engages us to read with accuracy and attention; it fixes the subject in our minds; and, if we should happen to forget, instead of reading the books again, by glancing a few lines, we are not only in possession of the chief arguments, but recall, in a good measure, the author's manner and method.”
In the year 1773, in conjunction with the celebrated Gilbert Stuart, LL. D. Mr Smellie engaged in a new monthly periodical work, entitled
The Edinburgh Magazine and Review.
The first number was published about the middle of October 1773; and the work was