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here within the reach of diligence, our readers may justly require it from us.
Memorials of a private and personal kind, which relate deaths, marriages, and preferments, must always be imperfect by omission, and often erroneous by misinformation; but even in these there shall not be wanting care to avoid mistakes, or to rectify them whenever they shall be found.
That part of our work, by which it is distinguished from all others, is the literary journal, or account of the labours and productions of the learned. This was for a long time among the deficiencies of English literature; but as the caprice of man is always starting from too little to too much, we have now, amongst other disturbers of human quiet, a numerous body of reviewers and remarkers.
Every art is improved by the emulation of competitors; those who make no advances towards excellence, may stand as warnings against faults. We shall endeavour to avoid that petulance which treats with contempt whatever has hitherto been reputed sacred. We shall repress that elation of malignity, which wantons in the cruelties of criticism, and not only murders reputation, but murders it by torture. Whenever we feel ourselves ignorant we shall at least be modest. Our intention is not to pre-occupy judgment by praise or censure, but to gratify curiosity by early intelligence, and to tell rather what our authors have attempted, than what they have performed. The titles of books are necessarily short, and therefore disclose but imperfectly the contents; they are sometimes fraudulent and intended to raise false
expectations. In our account this brevity will be extended, and these frauds, whenever they are detected, will be exposed; for though we write without intention to injure, we shall not suffer ourselves to be made parties to deceit.
If any author shall transmit a summary of his work, we shall willingly receive it; if any literary anecdote, or curious observation, shall be communicated to us, we will carefully insert it. Many facts are known and forgotten; many observations are made and suppressed; and entertainment and instruction are frequently lost, for want of a repository in which they may be conveniently preserved.
No man can modestly promise what he cannot ascertain: we hope for the praise of knowledge and discernment, but we claim only that of diligence and candour.*
* Dr. Johnson received the humble reward of a guinea from Mr. Dodsley for this composition. C.
Navigation, like other arts, has been perfected by degrees. It is not easy to conceive that any age or nation was without some vessel, in which rivers might be passed by travellers, or lakes frequented by fishermen; but we have no knowledge of any ship that could endure the violence of the ocean before the ark of Noah.
As the tradition of the deluge has been transmitted to almost all the nations of the earth, it must be supposed that the memory of the means by which Noah and his family were preserved would be continued long among their descendants, and that the possibility of passing the seas could never be doubted.
What men know to be practicable, a thousand motives will incite them to try; and there is reason to believe, that from the time that the generations of the post-diluvian race spread to the sea-shores, there were always navigators that ventured upon the sea, though, perhaps, not willingly beyond the sight of land.
* A Collection of Voyages and Travels, selected from the writers of all nations, in twenty small pocket volumes, and published by Newbery ; to oblige whom, it is conjectured that Johnson drew up this curious and learned paper, which appeared in the first volume, 1759.
Of the ancient voyages little certain is known, and it is not necessary to lay before the Reader such conjectures as learned men have offered to the world. The Romans, by conquering Carthage, put a stop to great part of the trade of distant nations with one another, and because they thought only on war and conquest, as their empire increased, commerce was discouraged; till under the latter emperors, ships seem to have been of little other use than to transport soldiers.
Navigation could not be carried to any great degree of certainty without the compass, which was unknown to the ancients. The wonderful quality by which a needle or small bar of steel, touched with a loadstone or magnet, and turning freely by equilibration on a point, always preserves the meridian, and directs its two ends north and south, was discovered, according to the common opinion, in 1299, by John Gola of Amalfi, a town in Italy.
From this time it is reasonable to suppose that navigation made continual, though slow improvements, which the confusion and barbarity of the times, and the want of communication between orders of men so distant as sailors and monks, hindered from being distinctly and successively recorded.
It seems, however, that the sailors still wanted either knowledge or courage, for they continued for two centuries to creep along the coast, and consi tiered every headland as impassable, which ran far into the sea, and against which the waves broke with uncommon agitation.
The first who is known to have formed the design of new discoveries, or the first who had power to execute his purposes, was Don Henry the Fifth, son of John, the first king of Portugal, and Philippina, sister of Henry the Fourth of England. Don Henry having attended his father to the conquest of Ceuta, obtained by conversation with the inhabitants of the continent, some accounts of the interior kingdoms and southern coast of Africa; which, though rude and indistinct, were sufficient to raise his curiosity, and convince him, that there were countries yet unknown and worthy of discovery.
He therefore equipped some small vessels, and commanded that they should pass as far as they could along the coast of Africa which looked upon the great Atlantic ocean, the immensity of which struck the gross and unskilful navigators of these times with terror and amazement. He was not able to communicate his own ardour to his seamen, who proceeded very slowly in the new attempt; each was afraid to venture much farther than he that went before him, and ten years were spent before they had advanced beyond cape Bajador, so called from its progression into the ocean, and the circuit by which it must be doubled. The opposition of this promontory to the course of the sea, produced a violent current and high waves, into which they durst not venture, and which they had not yet knowledge enough to avoid by standing off from the land into the open sea.