« AnteriorContinuar »
they can justly boast that they are the first who applied them to the purposes of general history; and their authority is the more unquestionable, as the authors published by Muratori generally lived at the time of the transactions they described. The French and the Germans can boast the like publications rescued from the jaws of oblivion. An historian's footing is firm while he refts
such authorities; but it requires no little critical discernment to separate the real from the fictitious. This was one of the most painful of our labours.
Our first duty in selecting our authorities, was to examine the authenticity of the materials. In this we were greatly assisted by the editors of the several pieces they published, who geo nerally prefixed some account of the author, or if that could not be obtained, fome evidences of the credibility of their publication, and a narrative where and how it was discovered. We next examined how far it corresponded, first, with other relations; and, secondly, with probability.
The former was a difficult, and indeed a delicate task. When great writers, such as a Mariana in Spain; a Mezeray, or a de Thou in France ; an Aretine, or a Guicchiardini in Italy, get once poffeffion of the public credit in general, the evidence must be very strong that can shake it in particular instances. When we attempt any thing of that kind in the following work, we have always submitted to our readers our
reasons for differing from former authorities and we have had the pleasure of finding all our endeavours of that kind well received. We can attribute our success in this only to our attention to facts, which no authority, be it ever so well established, can destroy. No historian ever possessed more abilities and better intentions than De Thou did ; and no writer is more candid than he is in relating matters that fell within his own knowledge; but De Thou, and every general historian, must trust a great deal to information, which he admits or adopts according to the opinion he has of his author's veracity. De Thou, for instance, in the affairs of Great Britain, consulted Camden and Buchanan, the former an honest, and the latter an elegant writer ; but the authority of records and state papers must preponderate against both. To multiply instances of this kind, that occur in the following work, would be improper for a preface.
We must now add a word concerning the probability of those auxiliaries to general history. To say the truth, this is far from being an encouraging consideration, without making great allowances for education, prepoffeffion, and prejudices. We seldom meet with a Monkish writer free from a dash of the marvellous; but were we to reject the whole for a few improbabilities, where is that history of antiquity that can stand the test of examination? We do not venture too much in saying, that many of thofe
good fathers thought themselves obliged to lie, when it could be of service to their foundations, their patrons, or their religion. This is an observation not confined to history; even Cicero, though no historian, in his invectives against Cataline, advanced in the face of all the Roman people, some as swingeing improbabilities as are to be met with in the most credulous times of monkery. Cicero, no doubt, thought that he was thereby serving his country, because he heightened the public detestation of the parricide. Upon the whole, we dare not reject a narrative that has a general face of authenticity on account of one or two improbabilities, unless they should affect effentials.
Besides the labours of individuals, general history has met with a powerful resource in the public records of religious houses; yet even those, though their authenticity is unquestionable, are not without the miraculous and marvellous. But though such passages are far from destroying their credibility, they are to be examined by particular criterions. If the records or annals of two religious houses in the same or different kingdoms, at a good distance from each other, correspond as to dates and facts, they bear the highest degree of credibility, and they are the firmest vouchers of history; but an editor must be extremely careful in collations of this kind. It was no uncommon thing for the good fathers of one convent
to transcribe the records of another, and to christen them by the name of their own house; but this practice was less frequent on the continent than in Great-Britain. It is greatly to be wilhed, that the munificence of European princes would enable men of industry and learning to bring to light more of those historical monuments than have hitherto appeared.
Coins and medals, inscriptions, engravings, seals, armorial bearings, paintings, and even tapeftry, are often of service to general history. How accurately did the learned Chiflet, from such evidences, destroy the boasted sanctity of the French ampulla, which a dove brought in her beak with the oil that anointed the first Christian king of France; and how irrefragably has he demolished from the like authorities the romantic original of the lillies in the arms of France ! But instances of that kind, even in less remote times, are endless. What improvements might we expect if every nation in Europe were as attentive to the study of their antiquities, as the French have been to those of their country! how many dates might be fixed, and what a variety of doubtful facts might be ascertained! How greatly has history been obliged even to the lowest of all passions, superstition and curiosity, which sometimes, at the expence of decency, have investigated and examined even the repofitories of the dead.
This history has the very fingular merit, that those parts of it which formerly were thought
to be the most doubtful, are here the best authenticated. The amazing empire of the califs, till Mr. Ockley's History of the Saracens appeared, was thought to have little other foundation than in fiction, and a few facts animated and exaggerated by the Eastern spirit of romance. But even Mr. Ockley's publication did little more than give an idea how a great state might be founded by enthusiasm, but guarded by personal virtue, inflexible integrity, resolution, constancy, courage, and industry. Our Universal History has pursued and completed the plan which Mr. Ockley chalked out, by bringing the reader acquainted with a series of princes, some of them the greatest that ever dignified, and others the worst that ever difgraced, human nature. In this history, he will see by what gradations, industry, learning, and all the fine arts, flourished under the califate, when they were extinguished in Europe.
What is still more amazing, the Christians of Spain were barbarians, when the Saracens in the same country were a polished people. He will see the causes why the califate, the greatest and perhaps the best polished empire that ever existed, came to ruin ; how the califs degenerated from the original principles of their government into crimes that rendered it necessary for them to be protected by foreign mercenaries in the possession of their power; and how those mercenaries, becoming a standing army, gave