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there is none more apt than this, to allure the student from the necessary branches of learning, and, if may so express it, entirely to engross his industry. What is here offered, therefore, may be sufficient for all, except such who make history the peculiar business of their lives; to such the most tedious narrative will seem but an abridgement, as they measure the merits of a work, rather by the quantity than the quality of its contents: others, however, who think more soberly, will agree, that in so extensive a field as that of the transactions of Rome, more judgment may be shewn, by selecting what is important than by adding what is obscure.
The history of this empire has been extended to six volumes folio; and I aver, that, with very little learning, it might be increased to sixteen more, but what would this be, but to load the subject with unimportant facts, and so to weaken the narration, that, like the empire described, it must necessarily sink beneath the weight of its own acquisitions.
But while I thus endeavoured to avoid prolixity, it was found no easy matter to prevent crowding the facts, and to give every narrative its proper play. In reality, no art can contrive to avoid opposite defects; he, who indulges in minute particularities, will be often languid; and he who studies conciseness, will as frequently be dry and unentertaining. As it was my aim to comprise as much as possible in the smallest compass, it is feared the work will often be subject to the latter imputation, but it was impossible to furnish the public with a cheap Roman History, in two volumes octavo, and at the same time to give all that warmth to the narrative, all those colourings to the description, which works of twenty times the bulk have room to exhibit. I shall be fully satisfied, therefore, if it furnishes an interest sufficient to allure the reader to the end; and
this is a claim to which few abridgements can justly make pretensions.
To these objections there are some who may add, that I have rejected many of the modern improvements in Roman History, and that every character is left in full possession of that fame or infamy which it obtained from its contemporaries, or those who wrote immediately after.
I acknowledge the charge, for it appears now too late to rejudge the virtues or the vices of those men, who were but very incompletely known even to their own historians. The Romans, perhaps, upon many occasions formed wrong ideas of virtue; but they were by no means so ignorant or abandoned in general, as not to give to their brightest characters the greatest share of their applause; and I do not know whether it be fair to try Pagan actions by the standard of Christian morality.
But whatever may be my execution of this work, I have very little doubt about the success of the undertaking; the subject is the noblest that ever employed human attention; and instead of requiring a writer's aid, will even support him with its splendour. The Empire of the world, rising from the meanest origin, and growing great by a strict veneration for religion, and an implicit confidence in its commanders; continually changing the mode, but seldom the spirit of its government; being a constitution, in which the military power, whether under the name of citizens or soldiers, almost always prevailed; adopting all the improvements of other nations with the most in.defatigable industry, and submitting to be taught by those whom it afterwards subdued-this is a picture that must affect us, however it be disposed; these materials must have their value, under the hand of the meanest workman.
FROM the favourable reception given to my Abridgement of Roman History published some time since, several friends and others, whose business leads them to consult the wants of the public, have been induced to suppose that an english history, written on the same plan, would be acceptable.
It was their opinion that we still wanted a work of this kind, where the narrative, though very concise, is not totally without interest, and the facts, though crowded, are yet distinctly seen.
The business of abridging the works of others has hitherto fallen to the lot of very dull men; and the art of blotting, which an eminent critic calls the most difficult of all others, has been usually practised by those who found themselves unable to write. Hence our Abridgements are generally more tedious than the works from which they pretend to relieve us; and they have effectually embarrassed that road which they laboured to shorten.
As the present compiler starts with such humble competitors, it will scarcely be thought vanity in him if he boasts himself their superior. Of the many abridgements of our own history hitherto published, none seems possessed of any share of merit or reputation; some have been written in dialogue, or merely in the stiffness of an index, and some to answer the purposes of a party. A very small share of taste, therefore, was sufficient to keep the compiler from the defects of the one, and a very small share of philosophy, from the misrepresentations of the other.