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It is not easy, however, to fatisfy the different expectations of mankind in a work of this kind, calculated for every apprehenfion, and on which all are confequently capable of forming fome judgment. Some may say that it is too long to pass under the denomination of an abridgement; and others, that it is too dry to be admitted as an hiftory; it may be objected that reflection is almost entirely banished to make room for facts, and yet that many facts are wholly omitted, which might be neceffary to be known. It must be confeffed that all thofe objections are partly true; for it is impoffible in the fame work at once to attain contrary advantages. The compiler, who is ftinted in room, muft often facrifice intereft to brevity; and, on the other hand, while he endeavours to amufe, muft frequently tranfgrefs the limits to which his plan fhould confine him. Thus all fuch as defire only amusement may be difgufted with his brevity, and fuch as feek for information may object to his displacing facts for empty description.
To attain the greatest number of advantages with the feweft inconveniences, is all that can be attained in an abridgement, the name of which implies imperfection. It will be fufficient, therefore, to fatisfy the writer's wifhes, if the prefent work be found a plain, unaffected narrative of facts, with juft ornament enough to keep attention awake, and with reflection barely fufficient to fet the reader upon thinking. Very moderate abilities were equal to fuch an undertaking, and it is hoped the performance will fatisfy fuch as take up books to be informed or amufed, without much confidering who the writer is, or envying any fuccefs he may have had in a former compilation.
As the prefent publication is defigned for the benefit of those who intend to lay a foundation for fu
ture ftudy, or defire to refresh their memories upon the old, or who think a moderate fhare of hiftory fufficient for the purposes of life, recourfe has been had only to thofe authors which are best known, and those facts only have been felected which are allowed on all hands to be true. Were an epitome of history the field for difplaying erudition, the author could fhew that he has read many books which others have neglected, and that he also could advance many anecdotes which are at prefent very little known. But it must be remembered, that all these minute recoveries could be inferted only to the exclufion of more material facts, which it would be unpardonable to omit. He foregoes, therefore, the petty ambition of being thought a reader of forgotten books; his aim being not to add to our present ftock of hiftory, but to contract it.
The books which have been used in this abridgement are chiefly Rapin, Carte, Smollett, and Hume. They have each their peculiar admirers, in proportion as the reader is ftudious of historical antiquities, fond of minute anecdote, a warm partifan, or a deliberate reafoner. Of these. I have particularly taken Hume for my guide, as far as he goes; and it is but juftice to fay, that wherever I was obliged to abridge his work, I did it with reluctance, as I fcarcely cut out a fingle line that did not contain a beauty.
But though I must warmly subscribe to the learn ing, elegance, and depth of Mr. Hume's hiftory, yet I cannot entirely acquiefce in his principles. With regard to religion, he seems defirous of playing a double part, of appearing to fome readers as if he reverenced, and to others as if he ridiculed it. He seems fenfible of the political neceffity of religion in every ftate; but at the fame time he would every where infinuate that it owes its authority to no
higher an origin. Thus he weakens its influence, while he contends for its utility, and vainly hopes, that while free-thinkers fhall applaud his fcepticifm, real believers will reverence him for his zeal.
In his opinions refpecting government perhaps alfo he may be fome times reprehenfible; but in a country like ours, where mutual contention contributes to the fecurity of the conftitution, it will be impoffible for an hiftorian, who attempts to have any opinion, to fatisfy all parties. It is not yet decided in politics, whether the diminution of kingly. power in England tends to increase the happiness or the freedom of the people. For my own part, from feeing the bad effects of the tyranny of the great in thofe republican ftates that pretend to be free, I cannot help wishing that our monarchs may ftill be allowed to enjoy the power of controuling the incroachments of the great at home.
A king may easily be reftrained from doing wrong, as he is but one man; but if a number of the great are permitted to divide all authority, who can punifh them if they abuse it? Upon this principle, therefore, and not from empty notions of divine or hereditary right, fome may think I have leaned towards monarchy. But as, in the things I have hitherto written, I have neither allured the va nity of the great by flattery, nor fatisfied the malignity of the vulgar by fcandal, as I have endeavoured to get an honeft reputation by liberal purfuits, it is hoped the reader will admit my impartiality.
HISTORY OF THE EARTH,
FIRST PRINTED IN THE YEAR 1774.