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industriously excluded. Revolutions they admit; but a fudden and total one would not favour the gradual and flow workings of their plaftic Nature, and might have effaced all traces of those ingenious proceffes which they have devifed for her all-efficient power. Yet the most authentic records of man, the flow population of the earth, and the birth and progrefs of the moft neceffary arts clearly fpecified in the annals of all nations, tell us, with at least equal authority, that this earth, fince its last great revolution, cannot be, as the habitation of the prefent race, much older than the age most generally affigned to it. I own indeed that the antient story of several nations furnishes many with reasons for giving a much longer duration to the present ftate of things; whilft others, perceiving nothing but doubt and monftrous fables in its whole texture, entirely reject the testimony of history. Some perfons, attributing to certain ftill exifting monuments an antiquity far beyond the reach of record, perfuade themselves that on this globe, whofe origin and great fucceffive changes are by length of time enveloped in utter darkness, ignorance and knowledge have frequently fucceeded each other at feveral intervals, as has happened between the age of Auguftus and that wherein we live, and thus prefume an antiquity unaccounted for in the exifting annals of mankind,
Philofophers, rejecting every other document, pique themselves on interrogating Nature only; and from her pretended certain indications pronounce, in spite of human annals, her high antiquity in4 dubitable.
dubitable. But if in fome points that Nature has permitted her fecrets to be penetrated by their fagacity, in others fhe has certainly withheld them; and the refponfes fhe is pretended to have made through their channel, on the great affemblage of her operations and Aructure, appear as yet not a little uncertain and confufed. There is yet ample field for difquifition, where the variability of opinions, however authoritatively affirmed, fhew truth uncertain, if not undiscovered. The hitherto difcordant oracles of philofophy seem not therefore of sufficient weight to overbalance the general traditions of all nations and ages on those points wherein they are found to coincide..
It must be allowed that the hiftory of early times, interrupted (a), broken, disfigured, and obfcured by abfurd fables, prefents more. uncertainties than facts on which we can rely. It is a fhadow almost effaced, but which ftill proves the exiftence of a real body. The vanity of nations and of authors has nearly buried it under a heap of apocryphal tales. The phyfical properties of nature and of the seasons, and the hiftory of the labours appropriated to thefe, blended with the names and actions of the first inftructors of mankind, form allegorical and myfterious fables, which produce to us a chaos fcarcely to be penetrated. In confequence, the greatest part of thofe facts which they were meant to convey to pofterity, are and will remain covered by a thick veil not to be removed. But, amidst all this darkness, perfevering criticism still difcerns from time to time some principal
events, which ever appearing prominent in the hiftory, the fables and mysteries of all nations indicate the real veftiges of certain truths of which all had equally preserved some idea.
Almost every confiderable tribe into which mankind has been divided, has been ambitious of that fort of pre-eminence which higher antiquity, and the honour of having invented or perfectioned the arts, seem to beftow. But notwithstanding all their efforts, the obfcurity and evident fallacy of their annals beyond a certain age, the thinness of population, the tardy birth and flow progress of the most neceffary arts in those very regions in times not very remote, the fucceffive emigrations at much later periods of feeble colonies (b) into fertile and in aftertimes celebrated countries, then nearly uninhabited, fhew the commencement or renovation of the human species not very far diftant. If the early perfection of certain arts point out in the minds of fome perfons a much higher antiquity, we may obferve to them in one great nation feveral of those arts emerging from a state of barbarism to an aftonishing height of perfection in the space of a century or two. This will clearly prove that the coincidence of fortunate circumftances, and of a few happy geniuses which met in thofe countries, had given them an energetic growth which no number of ages has been able to produce in others. Epic and tragic poetry scarcely experienced any infancy. Homer immediately elevated the former, and Sophocles fhortly raised the latter to full maturity. It is certain that the immediate predecessors
of Praxiteles and Apelles found sculpture and painting as rude and destitute of grace and nature in Greece, as thofe of Michael Angelo and Raphael did afterwards in Italy. The fucceffors of those fublime artists in either country, far from furpaffing, have not even equalled them. The perfection of the fine arts follows not then the number of years or ages, and it is not from their state. we are to deduce the antiquity of nations (c).
Aftronomy alone feems to have a claim to an antiquity beyond the reach of record. In times abfolutely unknown the theoretical part seems to have been perfectly understood. Its practical rules, preferved from time immemorial by fome eastern nations without the knowledge of the principles on which they are founded, fhew it to have been inherited a mere fkeleton of fcience from a former race with whom its theory had perished. Whilft fuch was its fate in the eaft, the principles of that fublime fcience were re-discovered in much more recent times by a new nation, till then equally ignorant of practice and of theory.
The foundations on which certain nations have endeavoured to fupport their pretensions to unbounded antiquity, fall of themselves, in the eye of criticism, from the moment they are obliged to have. recourse beyond certain epochs to the exiflence of gods or other imaginary beings. The felicity depicted during the reigns of gods and demigods denotes indeed the remembrance of a once hap
pier state of mankind. The termination of these golden ages, nearly coinciding, as if by confent, in the annals of those nations, with the probable date of the deluge, bears teftimony to the recency of that great event commemorated in the traditions of almoft all ages and countries. That its date is really not far removed in antiquity, I think a critical though curfory investigation of history will evidently confirm.
From a general but rapid review of the traditions, of the chronology, and of the early state of antient nations, I shall endeavour to select such facts as by their universality bid fairest to be authentic. These few confentaneous points, forming the most striking features of almoft every national record, we shall find concurring to establish the truth of a general deluge, and of the subsequent renovation of the human race at no very diftant period. To what diftance its date may reasonably be removed shall be fairly difcuffed. That, from the partial histories of fome nations, others have inferred a much higher antiquity than I am willing to allow, will not be difguifed. The pretensions of certain people to very remote origins, I flatter myself, I shall be able clearly to fhew deftitute of every motive of credibility. Founded on national vanity, and on the fuppofed fucceffion of princes who were either allegorical perfonages mistaken for real, or, if real mortals, were by the gratitude of pofterity adorned with the longevity and other attributes as well as with the names of their deities (d), they scarcely claim a place in history. The extravagant