« AnteriorContinuar »
'We may now surely be allowed to hope, that our catalogue will not be thought unworthy of the publick curiofity; that it will be purchased as a record of this great collection, and preserved as one of the memorials of learning.
The patrons of literature will forgive the purchafer of this library, is he presumes to assert some claim to their protection and encouragement, as he may have been instrumental in continuing to this nation the advantage of it. The fale of Vojjihs's collection into a foreign country, is, to this day, regretted by men of letters; and is this effort for the prevention of another lofs of the fame kind should be difadvantageous to him, no man will hereaster willingly risque his fortune in the cause of learning.
ESS A Y
ORIGIN And IMPORTANCE
SMALL TRACTS And FUGITIVE PIECES.
Written for the Introduction to the
THOUGH the scheme of the following miscellany is so obvious, that the title alone is sufficient to explain it; and though several collections have been formerly attempted upon plans, as to the method, very little, but, as to the capacity and execution, very different from ours; we, being possessed of the greatest variety for such a work, hope for a more general reception than those confined schemes had the fortune to meet with; and, therefore, think it not wholly unnecessary to explain our intentions, to display the treasure of materials out of which this miscellany is to be compiled, and to exhibit a general idea of the piece* which we intend to insert in if.
There is, perhaps, no nation in which it is so necessary, as in our own, to assemble, from time
to time, the small tracts and fugitive pieces, which are occasionally published: for, besides the general subjects of enquiry, which are cultivated by us, in common with every other learned nation, our constitution in church and state naturally gives birth to a multitude of persormances, which would either not have been written, or could not have been made publick in any other place.
The form of our government, which gives every man, that has leisure, or curioflty, or vanity, the right of enquiring into the propriety of publick measures, and, by consequence, obliges thofe who are intrusted with the administration of national affairs, to give an account of their conduct to almost every man who demands it, may be reasonably imagined to have occasioned innumerable pamphlets, which would never have appeared under arbitrary governments, where every man lulls himself in indolence under calamities, of which he cannot promote the redress, or thinks it prudent to conceal the uneasiness, of which he cannot complain without danger.
The multiplicity of religious sects tolerated among us, of which every one has found opponents and vindicators, is another source of unexhaustible publication, almost peculiar to ourselves; for controversies cannot be long continued, nor frequently revived, where an inquisitor has a right to shot up the disputants in dungeons; or where silence can . be impofed on either party, by the refufal of a licence.
Not that it should be inserred from hence, that
political or religious controversies are the only pro
$ ducts ducts of the liberty of the Britijb press; the miad once let loofe to enquiry, and suffered to open:? 'without restraint, necessarily deviates into peculiar opinions, and wander! in new tracks, where (he is indeed sometimes lost in a labyrinth, from which though she cannot return, and scarce knows how to proceed; yet; sometimes, makes useful discoveries, or finds out nearer paths to knowledge.
The boundless liberty with which every nun may write his own thoughts, and the opportunity of conveying new sentiments to the publick, without danger of suffering either ridicule or censure, which every man may enjoy, whofe vaniry does not incite him too hastily to own his persormances, naturally invites thofe who employ themselves in speculation, to try how their notions will be received by a nation, which exempts caution from sear, and modesty from shame; and it is no wonder, that where reputation may be gained, but needs not be lost, multitudes are willing to try their fortune, and thrust their opinions into the light; sometimes with unsuccessful haste, and sometimes with happy temerity.
It is observed, that, among the natives of £#£landi is to be found a greater variety of humour, than in any other country; and, doubdess, where every man has a full liberty to propagate his conceptions, variety of humour must produce variety of writers; and, where the number of authors is so great, there cannot but be some worthy of distinction.
All these, and many other causes, too tedious to
be enumerated, h ive contributed to make pamphlets and small tracts a very important part of an Engiijb library; nor are there any pieces, upon which thofe, who aspire to the reputation of judicious collectors of books, bestow more attention, or greater expence; because many advantages may be expected from the perufal of these small productions, which are scarcely to be found in that of larger works.
If we regard history, it is well known, that most political treatises have for a long time appeared in this form, and that the first relations of tranfactions, while they are yet the subject of converfation, divide the opinions, and employ the conjectures of mankind, are delivered by these petty writers, who have opportunities of collecting the different sentiments of disputants, of enquiring the truth from living witnesses, and of copying their representations from the lise; and, therefore, they preserve a multitude of particular incidents, which are forgotten in a short time, or omitted in formal relations, and which are yet to be considered as sparks of truth, which, when united, may afford light in some of the darkest scenes of state, as we doubt not, will be sufficiently proved in the course of this miscellany; and which it is, therefore, the interest of the publick to preserve unextinguished.
The fame observation may be extended to subjects of yet more importance. In controversies that relate to the truths of religion, the first eslfays of reformation are generally timorous; and thofe, who have opinions to offer, which they expect to be oppofed, produce their sentiments, by degrees; and, for the most part, in small tracts: by degrees, that they may not shock their readers with too Vol. IX. A a many