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PREFACE AND INTRODUCTION
To “THE HISTORY OF ENGLAND ; IN A SERIES OF LETTERs FRoM A NobleMAN To His son.” (”
THE Editor cannot dismiss a new edition of this work, without expressing the pleasure he feels in its reception. It was at first ushered into the world with none of the usual methods of awakening curiosity, or biassing the judgment. Its author, as well as its editor, was, and still continues unknown. It appeared with very little splendour; scarcely any expense was laid out in the publication, and that praise was studiously avoided, which was only to be caught by pursuing.
However, under all these disadvantages, the work has succeeded beyond the Editor's most sanguine expectations; if he may judge from the numbers which have been sold, and the commendations which have been given. Nor can it be a circumstance of small pleasure to him to think, that a performance, calculated chiefly to dispel the prejudice of party and soften the malevolence of faction, has had purchasers, at a time when almost every new publication that respects our history or constitution, tends to fix the one and inflame the other.
(1) [This little work was published anonymously in 1764, in two pocket volumes; and it is strikingly illustrative of the neglect hitherto shown to the detail of Goldsmith's literary labours, that his claim to the authorship of so popular a compendium of English history should be unknown to the great majority of readers. By some the work was attributed to Lord Chesterfield; by others to Lord Orrery; but by the great number to Lord Lyttleton. For a copy of the receipt given by Goldsmith to Mr. John Newbery, for the copyright, dated 11th October 1763, see Life, ch. xiii.]
It is true that but very little of the merit is his own, and that he only applauds himself for triumphs which have been gained by another. However, he is willing to take to himself those advantages which are declined by the great personage who has only deserved them; for the poor often think themselves very fine in those clothes which are thrown aside by their betters.
But, to speak more particularly of my own part of the work, I am not a little proud in hearing that the conclusion is not entirely contemptible, and that it does not fall very far short of the beginning. It was my aim to observe the perspicuity and conciseness of the original, and as his lordship seems to have taken Tacitus for his model, so I took him for mine. It was, in fact, no easy matter, in such a variety of materials as our history affords, to reject trivial particulars, and yet preserve a concatenation of events; to crowd a multitude of facts into so small a compass, and yet not give the work the air of an index. In this all who have hitherto abridged our History have failed: how far the present work has succeeded posterity must be left to judge.
The first part of these Letters, as we have formerly observed, were written for the instruction of a young man of quality, who was then at college: the Editor, therefore, is surprised with an objection usually made against them, that they are rather above the capacity of boys. If by boys be meant children, I grant it: the facts stript of all ornament may perhaps be most proper for them ; but on the contrary, those who are rising up to manhood should be treated as men, and no works put into their hands but such as are capable of exercising their capacity, and which the most mature judgment would approve. I am well aware, that many schoolmasters will prefer any of those little Histories of England that are written by way of question and answer, and think their boys making great advances, while they are thus loading their memory without exercising their judgment: with these men no arguments will prevail; and I can only dismiss such, with wishing that the professors were as respectable as the profession. Once more, therefore, I must assert, that though the book is written to men it will be a proper guide for the instruction of boys. “Marima debetur pueris reverentia” is true, as well with regard to the books they should read as the examples they should see. In this, I flatter myself that they will find nothing here either to corrupt their morals or their style; no slavish tenets that abridge freedom and increase dependence; no enthusiastic rants that drive even virtue beyond the line of duty. Scarcely any opinions are hazarded merely from their elegance or singularity; truth only seems to have guided the pen; and it is remarkable, that many of the tenets in these Letters, that at first publication seemed paradoxical, have been since illustrated by one of the most elegant commentators upon our constitution."
The accounts I received from Mr. , your tutor at Oxford, of your conduct and capacity, give me equal pleasure, both as a father and as a man. I own myself happy in thinking that society will one day reap the advantage of your improved abilities; but I confess myself vain, when I reflect on the care I have taken, and the honour I shall perhaps obtain from assisting their cultivation. Yes, my Charles, self-interest thus mixes with almost every virtue;
(1) Dr. Blackstone.
my paternal vanity is, perhaps, greater than my regard for society in the present instance; but you should consider that the bad pride themselves in their folly, but good minds are vain of their virtues. I need scarcely repeat what I have so often observed, that your assiduity for a few years, in the early period of life, will give ease and happiness to the succeeding: a life spent in regularity and study, in college, will not only furnish the mind with proper materials, but fit it, by habit, for future felicity. Mathematics will teach you to think with closeness and precision, and the ancient poets will enlarge your imagination: from these two helps, and not from the subtleties of logic, or metaphysical speculations, the mind is at once strengthened and improved. Logic or metaphysics may give the theory of reasoning ; but it is poetry and mathematics, though seemingly opposite, that practi. cally improve and fit us for every rational inquiry. These were the studies I recommended as principally conducive to your improvement, and your letters alone are sufficient instances of your complying with my advice. I confess my fears in giving any future instructions on such topics to one who seems better conversant with them than his instructor: I therefore must leave a subject where my superiority at least may be contested. But after all, my child, these studies are at best but ornaments of the mind, designed rather to polish or to fit it for higher improvements, than as materials to be employed in guiding our conduct as individuals or members of society. There is a field that, in some measure, still lies untrodden before you, and from that alone true wisdom and real improvement can be expected: I mean history. From history, in a great measure, every advantage that improves the gentleman, or confirms the patriot, can be hoped for: it is that which must qualify you for becoming WOL. I. 2 N
a proper member of the community; for filling that station in which you may hereafter be placed, with honour; and for giving, as well as deriving, new lustre to that illustrious assembly, to which, upon my decease, you have a right to be called. Yet still, nothing can be more useless than history in the manner in which it is generally studied, where the memory is loaded with little more than dates, names, and events. Simply to repeat the transaction is by some thought sufficient for every purpose: and a youth having been once applauded for his readiness in this way fancies himself a perfect historian. But the true use of history does not consist in being able to settle a genealogy, in quoting the events of an obscure reign, or the true epoch of a contested birth: this knowledge of facts hardly deserves the name of science: true wisdom consists in tracing effects to their causes. To understand history is to understand man, who is the subject. To study history is to weigh the motives, the opinions, the passions of mankind, in order to avoid a similitude of errors in ourselves, or profit by the wisdom of their example. To study history in this manner may be begun at any age. Children can never be too soon treated as men. Those masters who allege the incapacity of tender years, only tacitly reproach their own: those who are incapable of teaching young minds to reason, pretend that it is impossible. The truth is, they are fonder of making their pupils talk well than think well; and much the greater number are better qualified to give praise to a ready memory than a sound judgment. The generality of mankind consider a multitude of facts as the real food of the mind, not as subjects proper to afford it exercise. From hence it proceeds that history, instead of teaching us to know ourselves, often only serves to raise our vanity, by the applause of the igno