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THERE are some subjects on which a writer must decline all attempts to acquire fame, satisfied with being obscurely useful. After such a number of Roman histories, in almost all languages, ancient and modern, it would be but imposture to pretend new discoveries, or to expect to offer any thing in a work of this kind, which has not been often anticipated by others. The facts which it relates have been an hundred times repeated, and every occurrence has been so variously considered, that learning can scarcely find a new anecdote, or genius give novelty to the old. I hope, therefore, for the reader's indulgence, if, in the following attempt, it shall appear, that my only aim was to supply a concise, plain, and unaffected narrative of the Rise and Decline of a well-known empire. I was contented to make such a book as could not fail of being serviceable, though of all others the most unlikely to promote the reputation of the writer. Instead, therefore, of pressing forward among the ambitious, I only claim the merit of knowing my own strength, and falling back among the hindmost ranks, with conscious inferiority.
I am not ignorant, however, that it would be no difficult task to pursue the same art by which many dull men, every day, acquire a reputation in History; such might easily be attained, by fixing on some obscure period to write upon, where much seeming erudition mightbe displayed, almost unknown, because not worth remembering; and many maxims in politics might be advanced entirely new, because altogether false. But I have pursued a contrary method, choosing the most hoted period in History, and offering no remarks but such as I thought strictly true.
The reasons of my choice were, that we had no history of this splendid period in our language, but what was either too voluminous for common use, or too meanly written to please. Catrou and Rouille’s history in six volumes folio, translated into our language by Bundy, is entirely unsuited to the time and expence mankind usually choose to bestow upon this subject: Rollin and his continuator Crevier, making nearly thirty volumes octavo, seem to labor under the same imputation; as likewise Hooke, who has spent three quartos upon the Republic alone, the rest of his undertaking remaining unfinished". There only, therefore, remained the history by Echard, in five volumes octavo, whose plan and mine seemed to coincide; and had his execution been equal to his design, it had precluded the present undertaking. But the truth is, it is so poorly written, the facts so crowded, the narration so spiritless, and the characters so indistinctly marked, that the most ardent curiosity must coolin the perusal, and the noblest transactions that ever warmed the human heart, as described by him, must cease to interest.
I have endeavored, therefore, in the present work, or rather compilation, to obviate the inconveniences arising from the exuberance of the former, as well as from the unpleasantness of the latter. It was supposed, that two volumes might be made to comprise all that was requisite to be known, or pleasing to be read, by such as only examine History, to prepare them for more important studies. Too much time may be given even to laudable pursuits, and there
* Mr. Hooke's three quartos above-mentioned reach only to the end of the Gallic war. A fourth volume to the end of the Republic, was afterwards published in 1771. Dr. Goldsmith's preface was written in 1769. Mr. Hooke's quarto edition has been republished in eleven volumes octavo,
is none more apt than this, to allure the student from the necessary branches of learning, and, if I 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 endeavored 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 colorings to the description, which works of twenty times the bulk have room to exhibit. I shall be fully satisfied, therefore, if it furhishes 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, orthose 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 soignorantor abandoned in general, as not to give to their brightest characters the greatest share of their applause; and I do not know whetherit be fair to try Pagan actions by the standard of Christian morality. But whatever may be my execution of this work, 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 splendor. The Em’ pire 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 governo ment; being a constitution in which the military pow” er, whether under the name of citizens or soldiers, almast always prevailed; adopting all the improvements of other nations with the most indefatigable industry, and submitting to be taught by those whom it after wards subdued—this is a picture that must affectus however it be disposed; these materials must havo their value, under the hand of the meanest workman.