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If we pass

comment upon these parts of his work. But as they, who hear me are, at a season of life, when liveliness and sarcasm have but too powerful a charm, more particularly if employed upon subjects that are serious, it may not be improper to remind them, how often it has been stated, and justly stated, that questions of this nature are to be approached neither by liveliness nor by sarcasm, but by calm reasoning and regular investigation ; and that to subject them to any other criterion, to expose them to any other influence, is to depart from the only mode we possess of discovering truth on any occasion; but more especially on those points, which youth, as well as age, will soon discover to be of the most immeasurable importance.

from the matter to the manner of this celebrated work, how are we not to be surprised, when we find a writer, who has meditated the finest specimens of ancient and modern literature, forgetting the first and most obvious requisite of the composition he is engaged in-simplicity of narrative, In the history of Mr. Gibbon, facts are often insinuated, rather than detailed; the story is alluded to, rather than told; a commentary on the history is given, rather than the history itself; many paragraphs, and some portions of the work, are scarcely intelligible without that previous knowledge, which it was the proper business of the historian himself to have furnished. The information, which is afforded, is generally conveyed by abstract estimates: a mode of writing which is never comprehended without an effort of the mind more or less painful; and when this exertion is so continually to be renewed, it soon ceases to be made. The reader sees, without instruction, sentence succeed to sentence, in appearance little connected with each other; cloud rolls on after cloud in majesty and darkness; and at last retires from the work, to seek relief in the chaster composition of Robertson, or the unambitious beauties of Hume.

On this account it is absolutely necessary to apprize the student of what it might, at first, seem somewhat strange to mention, that he will not receive all the benefit, which he might otherwise derive from the labours of this great writer, unless he reads but little of his work at the same time. It is not that his paragraphs, though full and sounding, signify nothing; but that they comprehend too much : and the reader must have his faculties, at every instant, fresh and effective, or he will not possess himself of the treasures, which are concealed, rather than displayed, in a style so sententious and elaborate. The perversity of genius is proverbial ; but surely it has been seldom more unfortunately exercised than in corrupting and disfiguring so magnificent a work.

For the moment we reverse the picture, the merits of the historian are as striking as his faults.

If his work be not always history, it is often something more than history, and above it: it is philosophy, it is theology, it is wit and eloquence, it is criticism the most masterly upon every subject with which literature can be connected. If the style be so constantly elevated as to be often obscure, to be often monotonous, to be sometimes even ludicrously disproportioned to the subject; it must, at the same time, be allowed, that whenever an opportunity presents itself, it is the striking and adequate representative of comprehensive thought and weighty remark.

It may be necessary, no doubt, to warn the student against the imitation of a mode of writing so little easy and natural. But the very necessity of the caution implies the attraction that is to be resisted : and it must be confessed, that the chapters of the Decline and Fall are replete with paragraphs of such melody and grandeur, as would be the fittest to convey to a youth of genius the full charm of literary composition, and such as, when once heard, however unattainable to the immaturity of his own mind, he would alone consent to admire, or sigh to emulate.

History is always a work of difficulty, but the difficulties, with which Mr. Gibbon had to struggle, were of more than ordinary magnitude. Truth was to be discovered, and reason was to be exercised, upon times where truth was little valued and reason but little concerned. The materials of history were often to be collected from the synods of prelates, the debates of polemics, the relations of monks, and the panegyrics of poets. Hints were to be caught, a narrative was to be gathered up, from documents broken and suspicious, from every barbarous relic of a barbarous age : and, on the whole, the historian was to be left to the most unceasing and unexampled exercise of criticism, comparison, and conjecture. Yet all this, and more than all this, has been accomplished.

The public have been made acquainted with periods of history which were before scarcely accessible to the most patient scholars. Order and interest and importance have been given to what appeared to defy every power of perspicacity and genius. Even the fleeting shadows of polemical divinity have been arrested, embodied, and adorned : and the same pages, which instruct the theologian, might add a polish to the liveliness of the man of wit, and imagery to the fancy

of the poet.

The vast and the obscure regions of the middle ages have been penetrated and disclosed ; and the narrative of the historian, while it descends, like the Nile, through lengthened tracts of present sterility and ancient renown, pours, like the Nile, the exuberance of its affluence on every object which it can touch, and gives fertility to the rock and verdure to the desert.

When such is the work, it is placed beyond the justice or the injustice of criticism; the Christian may have but too often very just reason to complain, the moralist to reprove, the man of taste to censure, even the historical inquirer may be fatigued and irritated by the unseasonable and obscure splendour, through which he is to discover the objects of his research. But the whole is, notwithstanding, such an assemblage of merits so various, so interesting, and so rare, that the History of the Decline and Fall must always be considered as one of the most extraordinary monuments, that has appeared, of the literary powers of a single mind; and its fame can only perish with the civilization of the world.




HAVE made a certain progress in the consideration of

the earlier and more perplexing portions of modern history.

I have, as I hope, introduced to your curiosity the general subjects, that belong to it, and I have mentioned to you the writers, who have so successfully displayed the philosophy of history, while considering these particular times—Hume, Robertson, and Smith; Stuart, Gibbon, and the Abbé de Mably.

But while you are forming general views and studying these writers, you must acquire, by some means or other, a proper knowledge of those very facts and those very details of history, which have been present to the minds of these distinguished reasoners, while they were deducing their conclusions and forming their statements.

In other words, you must acquire some proper knowledge of the French and German histories; and these histories are, for a long time, very tedious and repulsive. The original documents, from which the facts of the early part of the French history are to be collected, will be found in a great work of the Benedictines, in eleven volumes folio, “Recueil des Historiens des Gaules et de la France." This great work is seldom to be met with in England : it is in Albemarle Street, at the Royal Institution.

But there is a work of a similar nature, by Duchesne, which you will find in all great libraries (in our own), and in which the original historians of France are collected. Gregory of Tours is the author most referred to, and parts of his work may be consulted to acquire an idea of the whole : his defects and faults are obvious.

There has been lately published, by Dr. Rankin, a work containing a history of France through these earlier ages. It is not executed with any very particular judgment, or any constant accuracy; yet, as the author's reading is very extensive, and as the work is never tedious, and particularly as it contains a variety of information, not to be acquired without intolerable labour, the student may consult it with material advantage and with considerable amusement.

It is to this work, therefore, I refer those who would study these early facts of the French history.

At the same time, I must finally refer you to the abridgment of Hénault, where the facts are well selected and arranged, and accompanied with valuable observations.

There is a still better work by Millot, on the French history, which might be consulted for the same purpose.

And, lastly, there has been lately published a work by D'Anquetil, on the French history, in fourteen, or rather thirteen octavo volumes.

D'Anquetil is a writer of great reputation, and undertook the work at the recommendation of Buonaparte, who very sensibly desired him to draw up a History of France, which could be read; disencumbered of those details which make the volumes of the French historians so repulsive and fatiguing.

Along with the French history, the work of Pfeffel must be looked at for the German history. Though every possible effort is made by this celebrated writer to render the early parts of his work as concise as possible, it is still a very disagreeable task to read through the particular history of those times; and readers will in general be content to catch up some of the particulars, that are descriptive of the scene in a passing manner, and to confine their regular reading to the author's remarks on each particular period, which are given, in a collected and summary way, at the end of each period, and are drawn up with great skill and perspicuity.

I would recommend to the reader to proceed beyond the period of the Saxon dynasty, which answers to the accession of Hugh Capet in the French history, and to labour, in some way or other, through the other two dynasties, and the interregnum, until he reaches the accession of Rhodolph, the

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