propriety, that our hiftorians borrow as much from the affections and phantafies of the writers, cc as from the truth; and are, for the most part "of them, built altogether upon unwritten rela"tions and traditions:" but that " letters written " è re nata, and bearing a fynchronism and equa66 lity of time cum rebus geftis, have no other "fault, than that, which was imputed to Virgil, "nibil peccat, nifi quod nihil peccet: They speak "the truth too plainly, and caft too glaring a "light for that age, wherein they were or are " written."

The Antients, it must be owned, were wanting to themselves, in not making ufe of fuch authorities; and to us, in not tranfmitting them down to pofterity. This defect, which is but ill-compenfated by the elegance and spirit of the fictitious fpeeches, with which their histories abound, is the more to be regretted, fince we fee to what excellent purposes the collection of Cicero's Letters has been applied by our learned friend Dr. Middleton, who has, by means of them, illuftrated one confiderable period of the Roman hiftory in a manner, which does honour to our age and country. And what light might not have been thrown, by fuch a series of Demofthenes's Epiftles, upon the history of Greece during the reign of Philip of Macedon, the invader of its liberties; when even his Orations, a fpecies of writing, that affords lefs variety

[ocr errors]

variety of facts, and more grounds of fufpicion with regard to the truth of them, have, in the hands of Tourreil and Olivier (c), been highly fubfervient to the unfolding of the character and conduct of that wife, but ambitious Prince?

Father Paul's Hiftory of the Council of Trent is the first instance of a work of this kind, drawn from original evidence; which has fupported it against all the arts and eloquence of Cardinal Pallavacini: and Time, which usually leffens the credit of other hiftories, has added new authority to this by every difcovery, which has been fince made relating to the fubject of it. The performance of this great and good man has served for an example to Lord Herbert (whofe Life of King Henry VIII. is chiefly form'd from our records;) as likewife to Burnet, l'Enfant, and Brandt; and taught the world to expect of fubfequent hiftorians a weightier atteftation, than their own affertions, or the popular traditions of the times when they wrote. Thuanus's history deferves the character, which Thucydides gives to his own, of Krnμa es asi, a Work for Eternity; and will be immortal, from his infinite pains in informing himself of the truth, by a correspondence with perfons of all parties, and all countries, and his unbiaffed candour in relating it. Nor could the prejudices of the religion, in which he was

(c) Hiftoire de Philippe de Macedoine : par M. Olivier, de l'Academie des Belles Lettres de Marfeille. Paris 1740. 8vo.


A 4

educated, prevail on him to juftify, extenuate, or conceal, what was pretended to be done for its interest, in violation of justice or humanity; nor the folicitations or refentments of King James I. induce him to alter or foften the character of his Royal Mother, when once he had fatiffied himself about it by a full inquiry among the most impartial witneffes. But Varillas and Maimbourg, once the delight of thofe, who read only for amusement, have, upon a due examination, funk into neglect and oblivion; the former pretending to anecdotes from invisible manuscripts, in order to give a fanction to his own improbable fictions; and the latter being equally wanting in diligence and fincerity, though he saw the use of State-letters, and, in one memorable inftance (d), has destroyed the credit of Davila's elaborate account of a conversation between Henry III. of France and Cardinal Morofini, the Pope's Legate, immediately after the affaffination of the Duke of Guife at Blois, by fhewing from the Legate's own letters, that he could not procure any audience of that King till three days after. Monfr. de Voltaire's Life of Charles XII. of Sweden will foon be upon the fame foot with Quintus Curtius, and only be read, like his Henriade, for the vigour of its style, and the force and beauty of imagination, which animate it; while the truth of his Hero's character and actions will be fought in the (d) Hift. de la Ligue, L. III.


[ocr errors]

more languid, but more exact narration of Mr. Nordberg (e). The fame will, in all probability, be the fate of another French writer, Father Daniel, admired for his genius, but too indolent for an hiftorian, who declares the study of State-papers to be a task of more fatigue than use *; and being shewn, in the Royal library at Paris, a vaft collection of original manuscripts relating to the history of France from the reign of Lewis XI.fpent a fingle hour in turning over the volumes, and then declared, that he was fully fatisfied; intimating to Father Tournemine, that he did not want those old papers, paperaffes, for his history (f); which is indeed, what might be expected from fuch a hand, a mere compilation from the most trivial books, in a more elegant ftyle, and a more regular method.

The correcter and more extenfive plans, which have been formed of modern hiftory, have occafioned the bringing to light the treasures of the cabinets of several eminent Statesmen. And while France has favoured the world with the letters of d'Offat, Jeannin, d'Eftrades, &c. and Holland with thofe of de Witt; our nation has produced

(e) Chaplain to Charles XII. His Work was first published in Swedish, and since in French in 4 Volumes 4to.

Hift. de France, Pref. p. LII. edit. Paris 1729. 4to. (f) Langlet de Frefnoy, Supplement de la Methode pour étudier l'Hiftoire, Catal. des Hiftor. p. 159. edit. Paris 1740. 4to. & de l'Ufage des Romans, Tom. I. p. 110. edit. Amft. 1734.


thofe of Throckmorton, Smith, Walfingham, Burghley, the Sidneys, Winwood, Roe, Thurloe, Ormonde, Orrery, Temple, &c. From thefe, and what else may be hoped for of the fame kind, the hiftory of our country will foon be raised to a degree of perfection, which may excite the emulation of our neighbours, if a genius equal to such a task will condescend to reduce these ample materials into a proper form.

To contribute in fome measure to fo noble a defign, at least by fupplying new materials, I undertook the following work; in which I have endeavoured to apply the unpublifhed State-papers of fome great men to the illuftration of feveral points of our history, which have not yet been defcribed in their due proportions. At the fame time I fhall have an opportunity of doing justice to the characters and merits of thofe men, who, tho' they ferved their country with equal fidelity and abilities, do not make fo confpicuous a figure in our annals, as others of a more turbulent difpofition, whofe ambition, like the public calamities of peftilence and war, 'not only employed the attention, and caufed the mifery, of their own times, but has left lafting marks of its fatal effects for the chief theme of hiftorians, and a warning, inftead of example, to pofterity. And, upon this occafion, it will be but equitable to the memory of one of the meaneft of our Princes, to obferve, that the Ministers employed by King James I. in


« VorigeDoorgaan »