Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

different opinions. He disclaims all systems in politics, and hag been guided in his narrative by matters of fact only. In his reflections and conjectures, where his own lights failed him, he had recourse to those who were capable of giving him information; and he has the satisfaction to believe, that when the prejudices of party are buried with their authors, the following pages, whatever defects they may have in point of composition, will be acquitted of every imputation of partiality; as rational entertainment and undeviating candor has been his only object.

INTRODUCTION

ΤΟ

A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE WORLD, FROM THE CREATION TO THE

PRESENT TIME. BY WILLIAM GUTHRIE, ESQ., JOHN GRAY, ESQ., AND OTHERS EMINENT IN THIS BRANCH OF LITERATURE. 12 vols. 8vo. 1764.*

[ocr errors]

EXPERIENCE every day convinces, 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 ardor: we profit by the experience of others without sharing their toile 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 geogra

* [Hitherto not more than one-half of this well-written Introduction has been printed in Goldsmith's Works. See Life, ch. xiii.)

[ocr errors]

phy 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. There is a constant, though sometimes concealed, concatenation in events, by which they produce each other, and without a knowledge of which they cannot be comprehended separately. The rise of one kingdom is often found owing to political defects in some other. The arts and learning of succeeding states take a tincture from those countries from whence they were originally derived. Some nations have been applauded for plans of government, which an acquaintance with general history would have shown were not their own; while others have been reproached for barbarities which were not natural to them, but the result of erroneous imitation.

Thus no one part of the general picture can be thoroughly conceived alone; but by taking in the whole of history at one view, we can trace every cause to its remotest source, observe how far every

nation was indebted to its own efforts for its rise or decline, how far to accident or the particular circumstances of the countries around it. We may here trace the gradations of its improvement or decay, mark in what degree conquerors introduced refinement among those they subdued, or how far they conformed to the soil and put on barbarity. By such reflections as these, and by applying the transactions of past times to our own, we may become more capable of regulating our private conduct, or directing that of others in society.

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 a sufficient stock of materials to please or interest the reader; but here that objection is entirely removed. A History of the World presents the most striking events, with the greatest variety. In fact, what can be more entertaining than thus reviewing this vast theatre where we purselves are performers, to converse with those who have been great or famous, to condemn the vices of tyrants without fearing their resentment, or praise the virtues of the good without conscious adulation, to constitute ourselves judges of the merits of even kings, and thus to anticipate what posterity will say of such as now hear only the voice of flattery? These are a part of the many advantages which Universal History has over all others, and which have encouraged so many writers to attempt compižing works of this kind, among the ancients as well as the moderns. Each of them seems to have been invited by the manifest utility of the design; yet it must be owned, that many of them have failed through the great and unforeseen difficulties of the undertaking.

Nor will the reader be surprised, if he considers how many obstructions an historian who embarks in a work of this nature has to interrupt his progress. The barrenness of events in the early periods of history, and their fertility in modern times, equally serve to increase his 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 falsehood, 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. So that were an historian to relate all that has been conjectured concerning the transactions before the flood, it would be found to compose by no means the smallest part of universal history; a composition equally voluminous, obscure, and disgusting

In the work, therefore, which is here presented to the public, we have been very concise in relating these fictions and conjectures, which have been the result of idleness, fraud, or superstition. Nor yet would the task have been difficult to amaze the ignorant, as some have done before us, with obscure erudition and scholastic conjecture. The regions of conjectural erudition are wide and extensive; in them there is room for every new adven. turer, and immense loads of neglected learning still remain to be carried from thence into our own language. There, as in those desolate and remote countries that are colonized by sickening states, every stranger who thinks proper may enter and cultivate; there is much room ; but after much labor he will most probably find it an ungrateful soil.

Were we disposed to enter upon such a province, we might easily, for instance, with some rabbins, inquire whether Adam were a hundred cubits high, or of the ordinary stature ; we might, with Hornius, examine whether he were a philosopher or a savage; or with Antoinette Bourignon, whether a man or a hermaphrodite. In delivering the history of the deluge, after having compiled the systems of our own countrymen, we might have improved upon our predecessors with those of Steno, Scheuchzer, and La Pluche; having mentioned the antiquities of Egypt, we might have made a digression on the Isaic table, ran round the circle of quotation, collected the opinions of Rudbeck, Fabricius, Herwart, Kircher, Witsius, and Pignorius, concerning this singular piece of antiquity; prove that they could make nothing of it; pathetically complain that the learned authors of a late Universal History had taken none of these subjects under consideration, and at last leave the reader in pristine ignorance.

But surely men of real knowledge cannot, without a degree of sarcastic contempt, behold such pretences to erudition, such a quackery of learning, acquired by the easy art of quoting from quotations, by consulting books, but not from reading them

Pretenders in every science are ostentatious; but real learning, like real charity, chooses to do good unseen.

We have therefore 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, for this reason, 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. In fact, we are not fond of building up an edifice merely for the sake of pulling it down, or of arranging the opinions of men only to show their uncertainty; for in the present instance, to use the words of Lactantius, “horum omnium sententia quamvis sit incerta, eodem tamen spectat, ut providentiam unam esse consentiant, sive enim natura, sive æther, sive ratio, sive mens, sive fatalis necessitas, sive divina lex, idem est quod à nobis dicitur Deus;" so that most philosophers agree in the main—they allow one intelligent Creator, and are found to differ less in sense than expression.

Throughout this work, therefore, not to make any vain or unnecessary displays of erudition, we acknowledge that the materials to which we have had recourse, are the same with those which other historians for several ages have employed before us, and which have been well known to the learned since the reviva) of letters. It would be unjust to make pretences to new discove ries of this kind; since neither we nor our predecessors in universal history, whatever the ignorant may suppose, have discovered any hidden stores already unexplored for compiling ancient history. Neither they nor we have found way to the libraries of Fez or Amara ; all the merit of the compiler of ancient history in the present age, lies not in his discoveries of new assistance, but in his use and arrangement of that alredy known.

« ZurückWeiter »