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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 dissatisfied with his narrative falling off, and dwindling into conjectures, or entirely ceafing, 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 poffibly 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 discovery 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 history ; happy if we can get over them ; but in fome periods they are unsurmountable. The writers of a Modern Universal History feel them more than those of a particular state, because they occur in the annals of every kingdom and people; and consequently their labour to fupply them must be encreafed according to the different heads of their undertaking.
That this complaint is well founded, must be admitted by every reader who peruses this work; but the reason of the defects are, perhaps, not so 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 remajns 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 infances of this kind would be the same as to compile an historical library; but the truth of our observation (to give one instance 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
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 rests upon such authorities ; but it requires no little critical discernment to feparate 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 aflisted by the editors of the several pieces they published, who generally 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 pollession of the public credit in general, the evidence muít 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 pofsefled 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, prepossession, 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 those
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 credus lous times of monkery, Cicero, no doubt, thought that he was thereby ferving his coun, try, 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