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Preface to the Third Edition

THE favour with which the Public has honoured this Performance, has, early after its publication, conducted it once more to the press. It becomes an author to render every new impression of his book more acceptable; it is thus, rather than by any other mode, he should express his gratitude. I have attempted to perform this, by having tasked myself to make the articles more full and satisfactory than in their first state. What were originally but seminal hints, I would hope will now be found sometimes to expand into the luxuriance of flowers.

The plan which I have projected appears to be valuable; yet, perhaps, the design has been but rarely understood. I had proposed to illustrate a series of observations on human life, by a multiplicity of examples, which, while they gave an agreeable exercise to the mind by their variety, might familiarize it to that greatest of all studies—the study of MAN. Montesquieu has this fine observation on authors: they should, he says, not so much make us read, as make us think. Il ne s’agit pas de faire lire, mais de faire penser. When I gave the articles—The Poverty of the Learned—The Persecuted Learned—The Imprisonment of the Learned—The Amusements of the Learned—The Progress of Old Age in New Studies—Poets, Philosophers, and Artists, made by Accident—&c. I considered them but as portions which relate to the history of MEN of GENIUS. The discerning reader may thus trace other subjects elucidated, by impressing in his mind their component parts, scattered in this Miscellany.

I was desirous also to direct Taste, by Criticisms which should be illustrated by examples taken from the most finished compositions: such are the articles—Virgil—Fine Thoughts—On teaching the Classics—Spanish Poetry—&c. Sometimes I proposed to intersperse biographical sketches of persons remarkable in the republic of letters: such are the articles—Mademoiselle De Scudery—The Scaligers—Milton—Cardinal Richelieu—Corneille and Addison—&c. and sometimes I have attempted to sketch subjects of literary curiosity; such are, Literary Composition—Origin of Literary Journals—Recovery of Manuscripts—Sketches of Criticism—The Bibliomania—Errata—&c.

In the HISTORICAL SECTION, I proposed to arrange those incidents which might serve as materials for a history of human nature; to trace the usurpations of tyranny, and the glory of freedom; as is done in the account—of the Pouliats, and the Pouliches, taken from the Abbé Raynal, and which is contrasted with—the Thirteen Cantons; which is further displayed in the articles,—Feudal Tyranny—America—&c, To represent the avarice, the cruelty, and the impositions of Superstition, which are sufficiently marked in the articles—Trials and Proofs of Guilt in superstitious Ages—Inquisition—Mutual Persecution—Religious Enmity—Virgin Mary—&c. To paint the characters of kings, and of nations; such are the articles—Monarchs—Edward IV.—Queen Elizabeth—Royal Divinities—Dethroned Monarchs—&c. The manners of nations are displayed in such articles as—Singularities observed by various Nations in their Repasts—The Athenians—The Italians—Spanish Etiquette—History of Poverty—Slavery—&c.

In the third portion of this Work, I proposed to give whatever I found curious for the singularity of the subject, or interesting from the importance of its information: such articles are—Singular Memories—Light Summer Showers forming burning Mirrors—Origin of several valuable Discoveries—Music—Hell—&c. And I have concluded this Miscellany by some Philological Observations, which may be regarded as a literary curiosity, by uniting in a few pages a succinct account of various Languages.

In a word, the scheme I proposed was as extensive and miscellaneous as life and as learning themselves. It should, perhaps, have been executed not by one person, but by the united talents of several; the solid column of Learning should have been ornamented by the graceful foliage of Genius.

Lord Bacon has observed, that men of learning require inventories of their knowledge, as rich men have schedules of their estates. The present imperfect attempt may serve for this purpose, till a better is produced.

Of an essay of the present kind, the reward is frequently not gratifying to the Author. To most, industry will appear the only praise to which he can aspire. Fastidious, and half-literate minds are incapable of discriminating betwixt a heavy, undiscerning, and tasteless transcriber; and an elegant, reflecting, and spirited compiler. Viner abridged the Commentaries of Coke into twenty-two folio volumes; Viner is a dull and inelegant compiler. Sir William Blackstone; treading the same arid ground, knew the art of rearing on it many a beautiful flower. Baillet, Bouhours, and Rollin, are all compilers; but esteemed in every literary nation for their taste, their erudition, and their discernment. Some compilers resemble the dull and unfruitful drone, that wastes the treasures on which it exists; others, the beautiful and lively bee, that wanders on the bosom of the flowers; and, to appropriate an expression of Shakespeare, ‘STEALING and GIVING sweets.’

Inferior as my abilities are, I must remark, that the labours of a work like the present, most readers will not immediately discern. To rate, by a concise article, the labour that it cost, is an unjust mode of appreciation; for it is certain that very extensive reading is not infrequently bestowed on very limited articles—like waters, which, drawn from various fountains, when mingled together, appear indeed to be the effect of a single operation, although they contain the efforts of several.

The present edition solicits attention by very essential and copious improvements. Above one-third part of the volume consists of additional matter. But, notwithstanding this attempt to form an agreeable LITERARY MANUAL, I have rather made known, than accomplished my wish. Abundantly honoured, as I must confess I have been, with the approbation of Journalists I respect, and of Friends whom I esteem, I would render the work as perfect as my feeble talents permit. It is for this reason that I am desirous of the contributions of the Ingenious. The various heads may serve as outlines or sketches for men of letters to fill up, as their reading or reflection suggest: and such a work can only be enriched by the accumulations of literary aid. I have received already several valuable hints; and if such liberal communications are continued, they will animate my future exertions, and tend to perfect a repository, which may not be unuseful in the Republic of Letters.

Communications for the author are requested to be left at Mr. Murray’s, No. 32, Fleet Street.

Editor’s Notes

 § This and the preface to the first edition were also printed in the fourth edition of 1798, with the addition of the following ‘Advertisement:’

In this Fourth Impression of CURIOSITIES of LITERATURE, several Corrections and Additions have been made.