« ZurückWeiter »
The flourishing state of the literature of Britain and its widely-extended influence among her inhabitants, are blessings only inferior to those of civil peace and personal liberty, with which they are so closely entwined. On the Continent, the voice of historic truth has been silenced, and her researches interdicted. The progress of despotism has been as universal as rapid. From the shores of Holland to the Cimmerian regions of Tartary, light after light has been quenched, and nation after nation consigned to the darkness and apathy of ignorance. The states of Switzerland and of Holland, the smaller principalities and civic republics of Germany and Italy, have been forced to resign that independenee, which had been spared by former conquerors, even when defended only by an ancient and venerable name. Those free cities, which cherished the earliest sparks of religious reformation, and the hardly less sacred embers of classical learning, have, one by one, beheld their press broken or fettered, their academies new-modelled or dispers ed, their authors awed into silence by proscription and military exe cution, or more shamefully bribed to plead the cause of foreign tyranny, by orders, ribbands, and pensions. Not only has the main current of history been intercepted, but the lesser channels of information, those journals, newspapers, and other periodical public, cations, whose supplies, though individually scanty, are as essential as those of brooks to a river, have been altogether cut off, or polluted at their very source. There is no voice left upon the Continent to tell the tale of universal subjugation, or bequeath' to posterity the legacy of retribution.
In such emergency, it is fortunate, not for England only, but for the world, that there never was a period of our history, when knowledge was so widely diffused, learning so highly honoured, and literary merit so much fostered and caressed. We would willingly, in circumstances so honourable to Britain, trace an omen of the future political regeneration of Europe. If the love of knowledge, elsewhere damped or extinguished, glows among us with a brilliance more dazzling as more condensed. let us trust that it is preserved
by the wisdom of Providence for the future exigencies of the universe. The Greeks, after the Persian invasion, decreed, that their household fires, polluted by the Barbarians, should be rekindled by a brand from the altar of Apollo. It may not be too proud, or too presumptuous a hope, that our island is destined one day to be the Delphos, wher nations whose colleges and shrines have been contaminated by a yet inore cruel, because a more systematic tyranny, shall repair to obtain a spark of re-illumination. Where, indeed, unless in the annals of Britain, can future historians derive materials for the history of this eventful period ? It must not then be wondered at, that at such a time, and with such a prospect, each, even the feeblest among us, should proffer the exercise of his taJents, where likely to be attended with the slightest advantage to the cause of British history: and it is under these impressions, that the Elitors of this work offer to the Public the present plan, conscious, that while their task is humble and unostentatious, the execution cannot be considered as useless or unimportant.
In assurning, for their proposed Work, the title of TAE EDINBURGH ANNUAL REGISTER, the Editors are sensible that they load themselves with additional responsibility. The metropolis of Scotland has been long a mighty name in the annals of literature, though, perhaps, never more universally honoured than in the present day. The editors dare not hope that their efforts can add to its fame; yet, should they be able to carry into effect the plan now submitted to the public, they trust THE EDINBURGH ANNEAL REGISTER will be no discredit to the city where it is published, and whence it derives its name
1. The HISTORY OF EUROPE, for the year 1808, will occupy the first general division of the proposed REGISTER. The Editors are aware of the peculiar difficulties attending the composition of such annals; the enumeration of which way shew, that they have carefully considered the subject, and are prepared to combat, if not to overcome them.
The requisites demanded for the composition of general and of periodical history, do not, perbaps, greatly differ. A sacred veneration for truth; a patient research through dubious and contradietory authorities; a lucid arrangement of the materials so paintully collected ; a judicious selection, generalising details, yet, retaining every circumstance characteristic of the actors and of the age; a style, emphatie and dignified in the narration of important events, coucise in the less interesting passages, but natural, clear, and unaf fected through the whole; these requisites are as peremptorily demanded from him who compiles the annals of a year, as from the historian of a hundred centuries. Or, if soine abatement be made in favour of the humbler labourer, it will hardly be found to counterbalance his disadvantages. The materials of the Historian inay indeed be of difficult access, of dubious authority, meagre in amount, obscure in purport, and irreconcileable with each other. But there are substitutes for these deficiencies. Time to collect, to systematize, to collate, and to arrange his materials, is at the writer's command; and, where industry is totally unsuccessful, he possesses, or at least often claims, the right of exercising ingenuity and conjecturé. The scantiness of facts may be lawfully supplied by hypotheses, provided the author can make those which he possesses hang together, and depend upon each other. If one volume supply him with the commencement of a war, and another, authority with its termination, the space between may be safely filled with conjectures, which cannot be easily refuted, if accommodated to the admitted events. The historian may thus throw an arch over a gap in his authorities, for he has facts on which to found the abutments at each extremity. But the annalist has no such licence. His conjectures rather resemble the bridge in the Vision of Mirza; one end, indeed, fixed and visible, but the other lost in the clouds and darkness of futurity. Even while he writes, the passing hour may give the lie to his theory ere it is dry upon the paper; and, should he venture at prophecy, he will do well previously to insure the gift of inspiration. Of the quantity of his materials, the Annalist has indeed little reason to complain ; but, in value, they are far inferior to those of the Historian. Authentic documents and original state papers, can only be recovered after the lapse of generations, and their place is but poorly supplied by contemporaneous reports, founded so frequently on wilful falsehood, or popular exaggeration. The superabundance of such ephemeral and apocryphal materials encreases the difficulties arising from contradictory authorities, and doubles those peculiar to the Annalist, from the shortness of time permitted for selection, collation, and arrangement. It were to be wished that the evil stopped here. But, although the Historian himself ought to beware how he yields to the seduction of theory, or of prejudice, the danger from such prepossessions is enhanced in a more formidable degree to him, whose narrative comprehends only the passing events of his own times. The prejudices of the former are those of a solitary student, peculiar to himself, and which either the counsel of friends, or the voice of candid criticism, may enable him to correct. But the contagion of party feeling is not confined to the Annalist's own mind; it is above, about, and around him; he breathes in an infected atmosphere; and is strengthened in his er
rors, scarcely more by the factious applause of his friends, than by the no less factious opposition of his adversaries.
Yet these various disadvantages, though formidable, are not insuperable; they may be lessened, if not totally overcome. Sedulous attention, and the assistance of judicious and well-informed friends, may enable the Annalist to sift his materials, and to digest them in an order, which, though it can hardly be expected to exhibit the philosophy of history, may present, in a connected and systematized narrative, those facts, which have been given to the public in insulated and individual irregularity. The advantage of such contemporaneous history will be readily appreciated, when we attempt, without its assistance, to recall to memory the events of our own time. Such and so rapid has been their transition, and so frequently have the important news of yesterday been lost and merged in the yet more momentous intelligence of lo-day, that the confused, dark, and indistinct impression is as shapeless as the cloud that has drifted to leeward after discharging its thunders. To this may be added, that, from the abrupt mode in which intelligence is communicated through the channels of gazettes and newspapers, it is often difficult, or impossible, to trace events to their operating causes. The Historical part of The RegISTER will at once have the advantage of recalling the events of the past year to the memory, and of tracing their progress, bearings, and dependencies. No efforts shall be spared to procure the most enlightened and authentic intelligence concerning occurrences of importance, both Foreign and Domestic ; nor would the Editors intrude themselves upon such a task, were they not confident of possessing sources of information not generally accessible to the Public. In narrating public struggles, and particularly those of a domestic nature, they feel equally the delicacy and the importance of their duty. To assert that they are capable of reviewing and relating the debates of two contending parties, each claiming the praise of unbiassed rectitude of intention, and boasting the distinction of the most splendid mental endowments, with minds uninfluenced by the arguments of either, would be the extremity of presumption ; since it would be assuming to themselves the power of observing a golden mean, while the ablest and most enlightened of the kingdom were swerving into extremes. But, if to ground their political creed, not upon party, but upon principle ; if to be absolutely and utterly unconnected with any political persons, in power or in opposition; if to be alike without hope and without fear, beneath flatlery, and far above threats ;--if these can give a claim to independence, the Editors may assert it with confidence and with truth. They therefore trust, that the annals which they essay to compile, may be found useful materials for future history, if themselves shall not be thought worthy of aspiring to that distinguished name. And if, as must happen after their best efforts, they shall be occasionally misled, future writers may learn from their errors the “ form and pressure” of the time in which they lived, and observe, with advantage, how differently the same events affect the contemporary writer, and those who are removed from the misrepresentations and prejudices of the period in which they have passed.
II. As an APPENDIX to the History will be offered an ample COLLECTION OF THE STATE PAPERS of the year. The use of these is sufficiently obvious; and care will be taken, by comparing the translations with the originals, to give Foreign Documents in a more correct state than that in which they are usually offered to the British Public.
III. CHRONICLE OF REMARKABLE EVENTS. This is intended to comprehend such incidents, as either form no part of the general history of the year, or are only slightly touched upon. It will naturally contain
1. Proceedings of the Courts of Justice in remarkable cases in England, Scotland, and Ireland.
2. Casualties, and Remarkable Occurrences, Foreign and Domestic.
3. Promotio: s, Marriages, Births, and Deaths. 4. BIOGRAPHY of Remarkable and Eminent Persons. If the Editors are able to render their publication valuable in other respects, they have little fear that this Branch will be enlarged at least, if not altogether supplied, by the voluntary contributions of those who seek a respectable place of deposit for the commemoration of departed genius and worth.
IV. HISTORY OF LITERATURE, foreign and domestic. It has been common for works of this kind to contain a Review of new publications. But it appears to the Editors, that, from the limited space which could be assigned to such a Review in their volume, it would be in every point unsatisfactory, even if that high department of literature were not already in the hands of others, whose acknowledged abilities stand pledged to its fulfilment. But a bistorical account of the state of learning, which, without pretending to analyze popular works, or make extracts from them, only professes to point out the extent and the causes of their popularity; to trace how far they have been dictated by the taste of the public, or have given it a new impulse ; and, to give a general and systematic view of contemporary literature;- this is still a desideratum, yet cannot be alleged to interfere with the labours of periodical eriticism In this view of the publications of the period, the usual rule