« PreviousContinue »
nently belongs to this period. Never, certainly, were collections of this kind so numerous, extensive, and rich, or so useful to the historian, as during the last age. They were so numerous, indeed, that no attempt can be made here to recount even the most voluminous and remarkable which were compiled in various parts of Europe. The most curious and valuable Collection of this kind that has been made in America, is that by Mr. EBENEZER HAZARD, of Philadelphia, who, for his useful labours, is entitled to the thanks of every one who wishes to become acquainted with American history."
Among the various contrivances to facilitate the acquisition of historical knowledge, to which the age in question gave birth, may be mentioned the Charts of History, in different forms, which modern ingenuity has framed. These, it is believed, were first brought into Great-Britain from the continent of Europe. Among the first presented to the British public were those invented and delineated by Dr. PRIESTLEY, with whose indefatigable labours we meet in almost every department of literature and science. The Lectures on History, by the same gentleman, may be considered, on the whole, as one of the most able and useful works produced by its author; and indeed as among the best and most satisfactory views of that subject which the age furnished,
The eighteenth century not only gave birth to many original productions of the historical kind, but also to many very valuable translations of the works of ancient historians. This exhibi. tion of the well-constructed and elegant productions of antiquity in modern dress, while it deserves to be mentioned among the literary enterprises which distinguish the age under consideration, may also, at the same time, be pronounced to have exerted a favourable influence on the character of modern historical composition.
b See Historical Collections, &c. by Ebenezer HAZARD, A. M. 2 vols. 4to. 1792 and 1794.
It is impossible to dismiss this subject without recollecting how much the researches of historians, in the eighteenth century, have contributed to fur, nish evidence in favour of Revelation. There never was a period in which Antiquities were so extensively and successfully investigated; and every step of this investigation has served to illustrate and support the sacred volume, A few superficial inquirers, in the course of the century, supposed and hoped that they had made discoveries from the stores of antiquity which would be found destructive of the inspired history. But these fond hopes were soon disappointed. When the path of inquiry opened by these sanguine discoverers was pursued further, and the facts
on which they rested their opposition to Scripture were more closely examined, they were found to terminate in evidence of a directly contrary kind from that which was at first expected. In this view it may be asserted, that some portions of the evidence in favour of Christianity, instead of growing weaker by time, are more convincing and satisfactory to the candid mind, at the present hour, than they were, or could have been, fifteen centuries ago.
BIOGRAPHY is one of the oldest species of writing. After the restoration of learning this branch of historical composition became particularly popular in Italy and France. From the latter country the same taste passed into Great-Britain, where it has been ever since growing. Since the commencement of the eighteenth century, every literary country of Europe has produced a greater number of biographical works than at any
former period. There certainly never was an age in which Memoirs, Lives, collections of Anecdotes, &c. respecting the dead, were so numerous, and had such a general circulation, as that which is the subject of this retrospect.
Perhaps few works have contributed more to form a taste for biography, in modern Europe, than the Dictionary of M. BAYLE, one of the most curious and learned publications of any age. Early in the century under review this work was translated into English, and circulated in Great-Britain. Not long afterwards it was republished, with very large additions, which nearly doubled its original extent. The Biographical History of England, by GRAINGER, is entitled to the next place in recounting the British productions of this nature. This was followed by the Biographia Britannica, by Dr. KIPPIs, after the manner of BAYLE. Since the appearance of this large collection of biography, several works, of a similar kind, have been laid before the British public by Adams and others. The last publication of this class, and in some respects the best, is that by Drs. ENFIELD and Aiken, undertaken a short time before the close of the century, and yet unfinished.
Besides these general biographical works, there were others, intended to exhibit the lives of particular classes of eminent persons, of which a number of high character were compiled and circulated during the last age. The Lives of the British Admirals form an important and interesting collection of this kind. The Biography of illustrious British Naval Characters, by CHARNOCK; the lives of Eminently Pious Women, by Dr. GIBBONS; the Biographia Medica, by HUTCHINSON; the Biographia Literaria, by Dr. BERKENHOUT; and several other similar works, are also entitled to respectful notice in enumerating this class of modern writings.
The biographical collections made on the continent of Europe, during the last age, were numerous and extensive, especially in the French and German languages. Among these the Histoire Literaire, of M. SENNEBIER, has attracted much attention, and received much praise. Besides this, the Biographical Dictionary of learned Swedes, by GEZELIUS; the Lives of the Great Men of Germany, by Klein; and the large biographical works, by SCHRANCK, SCHILLER and MEINERS, of Germany; by D'ALEMBERT, of France; and by TENEVELLI and FABRONIUS, of Italy, deserve honourable distinction. Of many others, perhaps equally worthy of commendation, the author has too little knowledge to enable him to speak, and especially to delineate their character.
But amongst all the Collections of Lives which the eighteenth century produced, the greatest, if not in bulk, yet in sterling merit, is the Lives of the English Poets, by Dr. SAMUEL JOHNSON. It is believed that this collection is without a parallel in any language, and certainly unequalled in the history of English literature. The author has been charged, indeed, with discovering strong and even bitter prejudices against some of the best characters which he undertook to review. But admitting this to be true, and in some instances there is perhaps too much foundation for the charge, it may still be asked, where the student of polite literature will meet with another collection of biographical sketches, at once so original, instructive, and entertaining; with a body of criticism so refined and discriminating; with a work abounding in so many beauties of style, so many just observations on human nature, so many curious and striking remarks on various departments of knowledge and of life, so many comprehensive views, and all so pure in their moral character, as the Lives of the Poets display? The stores of literature, it may be confidently pronounced, will furnish him with no such work.
Among the numerous single biographical works which the last age produced, it will be impossible to recount all, or even the greater part of those which are worthy of notice. A few of those which are distinguished in the annals of English literature may be slightly mentioned. The Life of Cicero, by Dr. MIDDLETON; the Life of Erasmus, by Dr. JORTIN; the Life of Swift, by Mr. SHERIDAN; the Life of Metastasio, by Dr. BURNEY; the Life of Doddridge, by Mr. ÓRTON; the Life of Petrarch, by Mrs. Dobson; the Life of Bacon, by Mr. MALLET; the Life of Lorenzo de Medici, by
i While this warm and unreserved praise is bestowed on Dr. Jounson, and particularly on the great biographical work which is the subject of the above paragraph, it is perhaps proper to inform the reader, that my opinions, on a variety of subjects, by no means coincide with those which he frequently avows, and takes pains to inculcate. What these opinions are, it would be unsuitable in this place to detail