Page images
PDF
EPUB

PREFACE.

NOW

[ocr errors]

In attempting to write the History of Rome, I am not afraid of incurring the censure pronounced by Johnson upon Blackwell ', that he had chosen a subject long since exhausted; of which all men knew already as much as any one could tell them. Much more do I dread the reproach of having ventured, with most insufficient means, upon a work of the greatest difficulty; and thus by possibility deterring others from accomplishing a task which has never yet been fulfilled, and which they might fulfil more worthily. The great advances made within the last thirty years in historical knowledge have this most hopeful symptom, that they have taught us to appreciate the amount of our actual ignorance. As we have better understood what history ought to be, we are become ashamed of that scanty information which might once have passed for learning; and our discovery of the questions, which need to be solved has so outrun our powers of solving them, that we stand humiliated rather than encouraged, and almost inclined to envy the condition of our fathers, whose maps, so to speak, appeared to them complete and satisfactory, because they never suspected the existence of a world beyond their range.

i In his review of Blackwell's Memoirs of the Court of Augustus.Works, Vol. II. 8vo. 1806.

now

Still although the time will, I trust, arrive, when points now altogether obscure will receive their full illustration, and when this work must be superseded by a more perfect history, yet it may be possible in the mean while to render some service, if I shall be able to do any justice to my subject up to the extent of our present knowledge. And we, who are now in the vigour of life, possess at least one advantage which our children may not share equally. We have lived in a period rich in historical lessons beyond all former example; we have witnessed one of the great seasons of movement in the life of mankind, in which the arts of peace and war, political parties and principles, philosophy and religion, in all their manifold forms and influences, have been developed with extraordinary force and freedom. Our own experience has thus thrown a bright light upon the remoter past: much which our fathers could not fully understand, from being accustomed only to quieter times, and which again, from the same cause, may become obscure to our children, is to us perfectly familiar. This is an advantage common to all the present generation in every part of Europe; but it is not claiming too much to say, that the growth of the Roman Commonwealth, the true character of its parties, the causes and tendency of its revolutions, and the spirit of its people and its laws, ought to be understood by none so well as by those who have grown up under the laws, who have been engaged in the parties, who are themselves citizens of our kingly commonwealth of England.

Long before Niebuhr's death I had formed the design of writing the History of Rome; not, it may

are

ons

common

well be believed, with the foolish notion of rivalling so great a man, but because it appeared to me that his work was not likely to become generally popular in England, and that its discoveries and remarkable wisdom might best be made known to English readers by putting them into a form more adapted to our common taste. It should be remembered that only the two first volumes of Niebuhr's History were published in his lifetime; and although careful readers might have anticipated his powers of narration even from these, yet they were actually, by the necessity of the case, more full of dissertations than of narrative; and for that reason it seemed desirable to remould them for the English public, by assuming as proved many of those results which Niebuhr himself had been obliged to demonstrate step by step. But when Niebuhr died, and there was now no hope of seeing his great work completed in a manner worthy of its beginning, I was more desirous than ever of executing my original plan, of presenting in a more popular form what he had lived to finish, and of continuing it afterwards with such advantages as I had derived from a long study and an intense admiration of his example and model.

It is my hope then, if God spares my life and health, to carry on this history to the revival of the western empire, in the year 800 of the Christian æra, by the coronation of Charlemagne at Rome. This point appears to me its natural termination. We shall then have passed through the chaos which followed the destruction of the old western empire, and shall have seen its several elements, combined with others which in that great convulsion had been mixed

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

with them, organized again into their new form. That new form exhibited a marked and recognized division between the so-called secular and spiritual powers, and thereby has maintained in Christian Europe the unhappy distinction which necessarily prevailed in the heathen empire between the church and the state; a distinction now so deeply seated in our laws, our language, and our very notions, that nothing less than a miraculous interposition of God's. providence seems capable, within any definite time, of eradicating it. The Greek empire, in its latter years, retained so little of the Roman character, and had so little influence upon what was truly the Roman world, that it seems needless, for the sake of a mere name, to protract the story for six hundred and fifty years further, merely to bring it down to the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks.

The first volume embraces the infancy of the Roman people, from their origin down to the capture of Rome by the Gauls, in the middle of the fourth century before the Christian æra. For the whole of this period I have therefore enjoyed Niebuhr's guidance; I have every where availed myself of his materials as well as of his conclusions. No acknowledgment can be too ample for the benefits which I have derived from him: yet I have not followed him blindly, nor compiled my work from his. It seemed to be a worthier tribute to his greatness, to endeavour to follow his example; to imitate, so far as I could, his manner of inquiry; to observe and pursue his hints ; to try to practise his master art of doubting rightly and believing rightly; and, as no man is infallible, to venture sometimes even to differ from his conclusions,

« PreviousContinue »