Page images
[blocks in formation]


Printed for. T. OSBORNE, A. MILLAR, JOHN




P R E F A C E.


FTER a long delay, occasioned by a variety of accidents which could not

be foreseen, the Modern Universal Hiftory now makes its appearance; and the Editors hope it will be found entitled to some degree of public approbation.

They are perhaps more sensible than the readers can be of its defects, but they plead in alleviation, that the greater part of those defects . are such as could not be remedied; nor was it even practicable to finish the work according to the letter of the plan on which it was undertaken. We will venture however to affirm, that this Modern Universal History, with all its imperfections on its head, is by far the compleatest work of the kind that ever was offered to the public in any nation or language.

An author who fits down with a plenitude of materials for relating past events, is apt to applaud himself

upon his arrangements, and the lights which he is enabled to throw upon particular periods. He is encouraged to hope that he shall find the same magazines, and the same variety of provisions at every stage of his historical progress. How miserably he is deceived, our experience can testify. Nothing is

A 2


more accidental than the materials of history. A great genius often arises in a barbarous age and country, that elucidates facts; and perhaps for three ages after, the Modern Historian has but the uncertain glimmerings of uncertain events to direct him. A reader is diffatisfied with his narrative falling off, and dwindling into conjectures, or entirely ceasing, perhaps, for years. The author foresees this; he lays aside his

pen that he may employ his industry in exploring new sources, in discovering hoards of unnoticed materials, some of them pofsibly lurking in the refuses of printed literature, others concealed amidst loads of monkish lumber in corners that the human eye never surveyed ; and more than probably, after the difcovery is made, the author can make nothing of it till it is transcribed by a hand that is ac. quainted with the writing and the language.

Such are the difficulties of writing hiftory ; happy if we can get over them ; but in fome periods they are unsurmountable. The writers of a Modern Univerfal History feel them more than those of a particular state, because they occur in the annals of every kingdom and peo• ple; and consequently their labour to fupply them must be encreased according to the different heads of their undertaking.

That this complaint is well founded, must be admitted by every reader who perufes this work; but the reason of the defects are, perhaps, not fo obvious. The ignorance of


the times treated of is the most striking, and yet even that is not always irreparable. How lame was the history of Italy between the fifth and fourteenth centuries ! Writers were not agreed about the parentage and connections even of the famous countess Matilda; and the wickedness of the Roman pontiffs was so incredible, that their votaries pleaded that the whole of their history was a romance. But dark as those ages were, some unnoticed men of letters existed in cells and convents; the only utility of such retirements. Sometimes ambition, intrigue, or the pleasure of their superiors, brought them into the world ; and after acting their parts on the stage of life, they were comfortably provided for, and had leisure to reduce what they had seen into writing. Their precious remains have saved the histories of several periods in various nations from oblivion; but unfortunately for the republic of letters, they often lay dormant for ages, till happy industry brought them to light, and at once dispelled the clouds and glare of fiction that usurped their room. To enumerate instances of this kind would be the same as to compile an historical library; but the truth of our observation (to give one inItance out of a thousand) is established by Muratori's collections of the history of Italy. How long did those valuable remains lye buried from all knowledge of the world ; and what lights have they thrown upon history since they were discovered! The editors of this work think


A 3

« PreviousContinue »