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character, however, on the whole, was singularly adapted to Dr. Robertson's purpose; not only as the ascendant it secured to him in the political world marks him out indisputably as the principal figure in that illustrious groupe which then appeared on the theatre of Europe, but as it every where displays that deep and sagacious policy, which, by systematizing his counsels, and linking together the great events of his reign, inspires a constant interest, if not for the personal fortunes of the man, at least for the magnificent projects of the politician. Nor is the character of Charles, however unamiable, without a certain species of attraction. The reader who is previously acquainted with the last scenes of his enterprising and brilliant life, while he follows him through the splendid career of his ambition, can scarcely avoid to indulge occasionally those moral sympathies which the contrast awakens, and to borrow from the solitude of the cloister some prophetic touches, to soften the sternness of the warrior and the statesman.
With a view to facilitate the study of this important portion of modern history, Dr. Robertson has employed a preliminary volume in tracing the progress of society in Europe, from the subversion of the Roman empire to the era at which his narrative commences. In this instance, as well as in the first book of his Scottish History, he has sanctioned by his example a remark of Father Paul, that an historical composition should be as complete as possible in itself; exhibiting a series of events intelligible to every reader, without any reference to other sources of information. On the minuteness and accuracy of Dr. Robertson's researches concerning the state of Europe during the middle ages, I do not presume to offer an opinion. They certainly exhibit marks of very extensive and various reading, digested with the soundest judgment; and of which the results appear to be arranged in the most distinct and luminous order. At the time when he wrote, such an arrangement of materials was the grand desideratum, and by far the most arduous task; nor will the merit of having first brought into form a mass of information so little accessible till then to ordinary readers, be ever affected by
the controversies that may arise concerning the justness of particular conclusions. If, in some of these, he has been censured as hasty by later writers, it must be remembered how much their labors were facilitated by what he did to open a field for their minuter diligence; and that, by the scrupulous exactness with which he refers to his authorities, he has himself furnished the means of correcting his errors. One thing is certain, (and it affords no inconsiderable testimony both to the felicity of his choice in the various historical subjects he undertook, and to the extent of his researches in the investigation of facts) that the most acute and able of all his adversaries * was guided by Dr. Robertson's example in almost all his literary undertakings; and, that his curiosity has seldom led him into any path, where the genius and industry of his predecessor had not previously cleared the way.
In no part of Dr. Robertson's works has he displayed more remarkably than in this introductory volume, his patience in research ; his penetration and good sense in selecting his information; or that comprehension of mind, which, without being misled by system, can combine with distinctness and taste the dry and scattered details of ancient monuments. In truth, this dissertation, under the unassuming title of an Introduction to the History of Charles V. may be regarded as an introduction to the History of Modern Europe. It is invaluable, in this respect, to the historical student; and it suggests, in every page, matter of speculation to the politician and the philosopher.
It will not, I hope, be imputed to me as a blameable instance of national vanity, if I conclude this section with remarking the rapid progress that has been made in our own country during the last fifty years, in tracing the origin and progress of the present establishments in Europe. Montesquieu undoubtedly led the way ; but much has been done since the publication of his works, by authors whose names are enrolled among the members of this society. “On this interesting subject,”
says Mr. Gibbon,* “a strong ray of philosophic light has broke from Scotland in our own times; and it is with private as well as public regard, that I repeat the names of Hume, Robertson, and Adam Smith.” It was, indeed, a subject worthy of their genius; for, in the whole history of human affairs, no spectacle occurs so wonderful in itself, or so momentous in its consequences, as the growth of that system which took its rise from the conquests of the barbarians. In consequence of these, the western parts of Europe were overspread with a thick night of superstition and ignorance, which lasted nearly a thousand years; yet this event, which had at first so unpromising an aspect, laid the foundation of a state of society far more favorable to the general and permanent happiness of the human race, than any which the world had hitherto seen; a state of society which required many ages to bring it to that condition which it has now attained, and which will probably require ages more to bestow on it all the perfection of which it seems to be gradually susceptible. By dividing Europe into a number of large monarchies, agreeing with each other in their fundamental institutions, but differing in the nature both of their moral and physical advantages; and possessing, at the same time, such measures of relative force as to render them objects of mutual respect; it multiplied the chances of human improvement; secured a mutual communication of lights among vast political communities, all of them fitted to contribute their respective shares to the common stock of knowledge and refinement; and sheltered science and civilization, till they had time to strike their roots so deep, and to scatter their seeds so wide, that their final progress over the whole globe can now be checked only by some calamity fatal to the species.
* Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chap. Ixi.
Continuation of the same Subject—History of America.
AFTER an interval of eight years from the publication of Charles V., Dr. Robertson produced the History of America ; a work which, by the variety of research and of speculation that it exhibits, enables us to form a sufficient idea of the manner in which he had employed the intervening period.
In undertaking this task, the author's original intention was only to complete his account of the great events connected with the reign of Charles V.; but perceiving, as he advanced, that a History of America, confined solely to the operations and concerns of the Spaniards, would not be likely to excite a very general interest, he resolved to include in his plan the transactions of all the European nations in the New World. The origin and progress of the British empire there, he destined for the subject of one entire volume; but afterwards abandoned, or rather suspended the execution of this part of his design, for reasons mentioned in his preface.
In the view which I have hitherto given of Dr. Robertson's literary pursuits, I have endeavoured not only to glean all the scanty information which his papers supply, concerning the progress of his studies, but to collect whatever memorials they afford of his intercourse with those, to whom he appears to have been more peculiarly attached by sentiments of esteem or of friendship. In following this plan, while I have attempted (in conformity to the precept of an eloquent critic *) to add to the interest of my narrative " by surrounding the subject of it with his contemporaries,” I have aimed also to select such passages from the letters of his correspondents, as were at once calculated to illustrate the characters of the writers, and to reflect some light on that of the person to whom they are addressed. It ap
* Abbé Maury.
peared to me to be possible to convey in this manner a livelier and juster idea of the more delicate features of their minds, than by any description however circumstantial; and at the same time, to avoid, by a proper discrimination in the selection of materials, those frivolous or degrading details, which, in the present times, are so frequently presented to the public by the indiscretion of editors. The epistolary fragments, accordingly, interwoven with my own composition, have all a reference to the peculiar object of this memoir; and I cannot help indulging a hope, that they will amply compensate, by the value they possess as authentic relics of the individuals whose friendships they record, for the trespasses they have occasioned against that unity of style which the rules of criticism enjoin.
In the farther prosecution of this subject, I shall adhere to the same general plan ; without, however, affecting that minuteness of illustration which I was anxious to bestow on the first steps of Dr. Robertson's literary progress. The circle of his acquaintance, besides, was now so extended, and the congratulations which his works drew to him so multiplied, that my choice must necessarily be limited to the letters of those whose names render their judgments of men and books objects of public curiosity. The society will regret with me, that among these correspondents the name of Mr. Hume is not to be found. He died in the
He died in the year 1776; the year immediately preceding that in which the History of America was published.*
* The following letters have no immediate connexion with the history of Dr. Robertson's Life; but, I trust, that no apology is necessary for their insertion here.
FROM MR. HUME TO DR. ROBERTSON. “ Dear Robertson,
Paris, 1st December, 1763. “ Among other agreeable circumstances, which attend me at Paris, I must mention that of having a lady for a translator, a woman of merit, the widow of an advocate. She was before very poor, and known but to few; but this work has got her reputation, and procured her a pension from the court, which sets her at her ease. She tells me, that she has got a habit of industry; and would continue, if I could point out to her any other English book she could undertake, without running the risque of being anticipated by any other translator. Your History of Scotland is translated, and is in the press : but I recommended to her your History of Charles V. and 'promised to write to you, in order to know when it would be printed, and to desire you to send over the sheets from London as they came from the press : I should put them into her hands, and she would by that means have the start of