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The first demand, made by the reader of a journal, is, that he should find an accurate account of foreign transactions and domestick incidents. This is always expected, but this is very rarely performed. Of those writers who have taken upon themselves the task of intelligence, some have given and others have sold their abilities, whether small or great, to one or other of the parties that divide us; and without a wish for truth or thought of decency, without care of any other reputation than that of a stubborn adherence to their abettors, carry on the same tenour of representation through all the vicissitudes of right and wrong, neither depressed by detection, nor abashed by confutation, proud of the hourly increase of infamy, and ready to boast of all the contumelies that falsehood and slander may bring upon them, as new proofs of their zeal and fidelity.
With these heroes we have no ambition to be numbered; we leave to the confessors of faction the merit of their sufferings, and are desirous to shelter ourselves under the protection of truth. That all our facts will be authentick, or all our remarks just, we dare not venture to promise: we can relate but what we hear, we can point out but what we see. Of remote transactions, the first accounts are always confused, and commonly exaggerated and in domestick affairs, if the power to conceal is less, the interest to misrepresent is often greater; and, what is sufficiently vexatious, truth seems to fly from curiosity, and as many inquiries produce many narratives, whatever engages the publick attention is immediately disguised by the embellishments of fiction. We pretend to no peculiar power of disentangling contradiction or denuding forgery, we have no settled correspondence with the antipodes, nor maintain any spies in the cabinets of princes. But as we shall always be conscious that our mistakes are involuntary, we shall watch the gradual discoveries of time, and retract whatever we have hastily and erroneously advanced.
In the narratives of the daily writers every reader per
ceives somewhat of neatness and purity wanting, which, at the first view, it seems easy to supply; but it must be considered, that those passages must be written in haste, and, that there is often no other choice, but that they must want either novelty or accuracy; and that, as life is very uniform, the affairs of one week are so like those of another, that by any attempt after variety of expression, invention would soon be wearied, and language exhausted. Some improvements, however, we hope to make; and for the rest we think that, when we commit only common faults, we shall not be excluded from common indulgence.
The accounts of prices of corn and stocks are to most of our readers of more importance than narratives of greater sound; and, as exactness is here within the reach of diligence, our readers may justly require it from us.
Memorials of a private and personal kind, which relate deaths, marriages, and preferments, must always be imperfect by omission, and often erroneous by misinformation; but even in these there shall not be wanting care to avoid mistakes, or to rectify them, whenever they shall be found.
That part of our work, by which it is distinguished from all others, is the literary journal, or account of the labours and productions of the learned. This was for a long time among the deficiencies of English literature; but, as the caprice of man is always starting from too little to too much, we have now, amongst other disturbers of human quiet, a numerous body of reviewers and remarkers.
Every art is improved by the emulation of competitors; those who make no advances towards excellence, may stand as warnings against faults. We shall endeavour to avoid that petulance which treats with contempt whatever has hitherto been reputed sacred. We shall repress that elation of malignity, which wantons in the cruelties of criticism, and not only murders reputation, but murders it by torture. Whenever we feel ourselves ignorant we shall at least be modest. Our intention is not to preoccupy judgment by praise or censure, but to gratify curiosity by early intelligence, and to tell rather what our authors have
attempted, than what they have performed. The titles of books are necessarily short, and, therefore, disclose but imperfectly the contents; they are sometimes fraudulent and intended to raise false expectations. In our account this brevity will be extended, and these frauds, whenever they are detected, will be exposed; for though we write without intention to injure, we shall not suffer ourselves to be made parties to deceit.
If any author shall transmit a summary of his work, we shall willingly receive it; if any literary anecdote, or curious observation, shall be communicated to us, we will carefully insert it. Many facts are known and forgotten, many observations are made and suppressed; and entertainment and instruction are frequently lost, for want of a repository in which they may be conveniently preserved.
No man can modestly promise what he cannot ascertain: we hope for the praise of knowledge and discernment, but we claim only that of diligence and candour3.
• Dr. Johnson received the humble reward of a guinea from Mr. Dodsley for this composition.
NAVIGATION, like other arts, has been perfected by de-grees. It is not easy to conceive that any age or nation was without some vessel, in which rivers might be passed by travellers, or lakes frequented by fishermen; but we have no knowledge of any ship that could endure the violence of the ocean before the ark of Noah.
As the tradition of the deluge has been transmitted to almost all the nations of the earth, it must be supposed that the memory of the means, by which Noah and his family were preserved, would be continued long among their descendants, and that the possibility of passing the seas could never be doubted.
What men know to be practicable, a thousand motives will incite them to try; and there is reason to believe, that from the time that the generations of the postdiluvian race spread to the seashores, there were always navigators that ventured upon the sea, though, perhaps, not willingly beyond the sight of land.
Of the ancient voyages little certain is known, and it is not necessary to lay before the reader such conjectures as learned men have offered to the world. The Romans, by conquering Carthage, put a stop to great part of the trade of distant nations with one another, and because they
A collection of Voyages and Travels, selected from the writers of all nations, in twenty small pocket volumes, and published by Newbery; to oblige whom, it is conjectured that Johnson drew up this curious and learned paper, which appeared in the first volume, 1759.
thought only on war and conquest, as their empire increased, commerce was discouraged; till under the latter emperours, ships seem to have been of little other use than to transport soldiers.
Navigation could not be carried to any great degree of certainty without the compass, which was unknown to the ancients. The wonderful quality by which a needle or small bar of steel, touched with a loadstone or magnet, and turning freely by equilibration on a point, always preserves the meridian, and directs its two ends north and south, was discovered, according to the common opinion, in 1299, by John Gola of Amalfi, a town in Italy.
From this time it is reasonable to suppose that navigation made continual, though slow, improvements, which the confusion and barbarity of the times, and the want of communication between orders of men so distant as sailors and monks, hindered from being distinctly and successively recorded.
It seems, however, that the sailors still wanted either knowledge or courage, for they continued for two centu ries to creep along the coast, and considered every headland as unpassable, which ran far into the sea, and against which the waves broke with uncommon agitation.
The first who is known to have formed the design of new discoveries, or the first who had power to execute his purposes, was Don Henry the fifth", son of John, the first king of Portugal, and Philippina, sister of Henry the fourth of England. Don Henry, having attended his father to the conquest of Ceuta, obtained, by conversation with the inhabitants of the continent, some accounts of the interiour kingdoms and southern coast of Africa; which, though rude and indistinct, were sufficient to raise his curiosity, and convince him, that there were countries yet unknown. and worthy of discovery.
He, therefore, equipped some small vessels, and commanded that they should pass, as far as they could, along
"Read Mickle's very excellent introduction to his translation of Camoens' Lusiad.-Ed.