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« It is characteristic of the noblest natures and the finest imagination to love to explore the vestiges of antiquity.”—Eustace.
The desire of possessing sone knowledge of the events that have preceded us, of the places of our nativity, or which contain the sepulchres of our forefathers, seems to be one of the most universal feelings of our nature. The author of “The Last Days of Pompeii” beautifully writes : “ We love to feel within us the bond which unites the most distant eras. Men, nations, customs perish; the affections are immortal ! they are the sympathies which unite the ceaseless generations: the past lives; when we look upon its emotions, it lives in our own. It is the magician's gift, that revives the dead, that animates the dust of forgotten graves. This is not the author's skill; it is in the heart of the reader.”
The only people whose origin is known are the Jews, their history being handed down to us by Holy Writ. No country in Europe can prove a strict succession for many ages.
The design of this work is to exhibit to the American reader, in a concise form, the manners, the customs, and the social condition of the people by whom this country was, for the most part, colonized : for, as Dr. Johnson observes, “ Books that you may carry to the fire and hold steadily in hand, are the most useful after all. A reader will-often look at them and be tempted to go on, when he would have been frightened at books of a larger size and of a more erudite appearance."
Of the twenty-seven states which now form this confederacy, thirteen were originally peopled from Great Britain. * As the English language is spoken all over it, it must be highly useful for the public to know the social condition of that people at the period of its first settlement. Those who did not emigrate from those islands will find information which they cannot otherwise obtain, and thereby an insight into the habits and manners of the English nation, which at present may appear to them unaccountable.
It appears to be the most important period of any to the * A table of the settlement of the States of the U. S. will be found in the Appendix, p. 311.
people of this Union, perhaps the most extraordinary of any since time itself commenced. It may serve as a point to the future historian, for him to trace the ever-varying chain of events that will certainly arise in the social condition of those who are to succeed us. The talented Mrs. Barbauld says: “ Often does a single man illustrate his country, and leave a long track of light after him to future ages."
That important period is not only interesting to us as a nation, but also peculiarly interesting as being the first dawn of that bright era when " starlight science” was just unfolding to the human race those extraordinary and inexhaustible stores which have since been so wonderfully developed, and in the perfecting of which this nation seems to be, with the same praiseworthy desire, equally engaged with the rest of the children of men, for their social, mental, and moral meliorations. Mr. Burke has truly observed, “ The stock of materials by which any country is rendered flourishing and prosperous, is its industry, its knowledge or skill, its morals, its execution of justice, its courage, and the national union in directing those powers to one point, and making them all centre in the public benefit."
It is but lately that historians have gone sufficiently into details upon those subjects which throw light upon the social condition of the people of whom they were writing. They have seemed to consider that all that was necessary was to detail the amours and other follies of their chief rulers, with their battles by sea or by land, leaving the manners, the customs, and the social condition of the inhabitants at large to be guessed at according to the fancy of their readers. But the scrutinizing curiosity of the present age does not, as it ought not, remain so easily satisfied
A portion of the materials of this work has been collected during the last forty years.
“Pleasing, when youth is long expired, to trace
The forms our pencil or our pen design'd;
Such the soft image of our youthful mind." Shenstone.
At the juvenile age at which the writer began to make note books he was not aware of the importance of recording the titles, the dates, or the names of the authors of many of the works from which he was receiving instruction and delight, which he trusts will be a sufficient apology should it appear he has inserted some articles as his own which the intelligent reader may detect as belonging to others. The writer would be sorry to be considered a wilful plagiarist, having long been admonished by the following couplet not to commit such mean peculations :
“Steal not word for word nor thought for thought,
For you'll be teazed to death if you are caught.”
The candid critic will admit that one may be guilty of plagiarism, and yet be unconscious of it. Mr. Sheridan, one of the greatest geniuses of the last century, has observed : “ Faded ideas float in the mind like half forgotten dreams, and imagination in its fullest enjoyment becomes suspicious of its offspring, and doubts whether it has created or adopted it.” In the language of Dryden, (if he may be permitted to apply it,)“ My chief delight is to amuse and adorn the age in which I live." Also with an apology from Strutt, “ I must entreat the reader to excuse the frequent quotations which he will meet with, which, in general, I have given derbatim, and this I have done for his satisfaction as well as my own, judging it much fairer standing upon the authority of others than to arrogate to myself the least degree of penetration to which I have no claim."
The writer sets up but little claim to any part of it; it is merely a compilation, (“though compilers are the pioneers of literature.”) He has availed himself to some extent of the “ Pictorial History of England ;" and happy shall he be if this notice should be the means of bringing that very interesting work into more general use, particularly in public libraries and schools, as it is an excellent work of reference. The article on “ bells »* he has extracted partly from Gardiner's “ Music of Nature," and partly from Burney's “ History of Music.”
On the at all times exciting subjects of religion and politics he wishes to be considered as being no partisan ; they are introduced as features in the portrait that could not but be conspicuJously noticed. With the doctrines he has not meddled. He has thought it an act of justice to substitute the word Catholic for Papist, and the word Friend for Quaker, those words being used as nick-names of that period : by this course, however, he may be destined to realize the following lines by Lord Byron:
“ The consequence is, being of no party
I shall offend all parties-never mind;
The name Puritan, which originated in the time of Queen Elizabeth, was given to a considerable number of men because
* Vide Vol. ii.
they wished to serve and worship their Maker with greater purity. That name, although arising from the same reproachful spirit, he has been obliged to continue, not having found an instance under which they were otherwise designated.
The author has purposely abstained from noticing many of the plays, and much of the literature of the times, as being decidedly immoral and offensive.
With respect to the inventions and discoveries of the period, they were but few, and the names of the inventors of many of them may be disputed ; but such as were the most prominent, and as generally admitted, are noticed.
" These are the gifts of art, and art thrives most
The reader will find many extraordinary things narrated in this work, which may seem almost incredible; yet there is not one but will bear the test of criticism.
While endeavouring to impart to his work the charm of variety, the author has studied to give a full and faithful portraiture of the times; and whatever may be said of the production, which he submits, with some trepidation, to the candid judgment of a discerning public, he hopes it will escape the censure that has been passed on the statues of ÆGINA: “ They show but one countenance."
Happy shall he be if it be found a cabinet of splendid gems, of brilliant workmanship, ingeniously inlaid and well put together, curiously nailed and clenched by authority; proper for readers of all ages, sexes, and conditions, and a useful book of reference for all parties.
New York, August, 1843.