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Preface to the New Edition of ‘Volume the Second’

A SHORT period of time has again brought me before the Public. The encouragement I have received, has been a powerful motive to excite to new exertions of industry. In the present edition I found more to correct than to expunge. Nothing has been omitted, excepting the prose version of Haller; and the entire article of ‘Entertaining Preachers,’ which, preserving its title, has been re-composed, and is now perhaps the most curious in the work. A great accession of new matter has however been obtained; and though above a third portion of the work consists of additional information, by precautions in the mode of printing, the size of the volume, and the price have been but inconsiderably increased. It is not improper to observe, that no new article has been admitted. Whatever has been added, is for the purpose of continuing the former speculations.

I cannot conclude this preface, without making some observations respecting my design in these volumes. When this compilement was first printed, I thought I had fully stated the reasons for its appearance; but perhaps a reader does not so often understand an author, as an author does himself.

I had observed in conversation, that many to whom Nature had not been penurious in her gifts, but whose occupations, or whose indolence, only permitted them to read the novelties of the day, had their literary knowledge restricted in very narrow limits. To germinate their ideas into a floral existence, by familiarizing them with the characters, and circumstances of the Republic of Letters, I considered not as a brilliant operation, but an honourable task. I perceived the wants of a numerous class of ingenious men, and I did not consider it as difficult to supply very excellent wells, but very dry ones, with a little clear water. That my project was not unhappy, its success perhaps will testify.

This, like far superior works, has been found open to the attacks of some. But I have been censured by those whom I was not solicitous to please; the very learned, and the very ignorant. The last are pleased to consider it, as the mechanical composition of the hand; and the others (who are by no means averse to works of this description) are disappointed in finding that I am no great artist in black literature. I was desirous of filling the mind with the furniture, and not to the lumber of letters. This species of books is not made for those who know every thing, and those who know nothing. The first are in no want of it; the latter are incapable of understanding it. I have felt myself in the disagreeable situation which Burton, the author of ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy,’ appears likewise to have known. He says of his work, ‘This is a thinge of meere industrie, a Collection without wit or invention; a very toy. So men are valued! their labours vilified by fellows of no worth themselves, as things of nought; who could not have done as much? How shall I hope to expresse myselfe to each man’s humour and conceipt? Some understande too little, and some too much.’ I made this book for the Gens du Monde, and its place, if it shall merit any place, must be on the shelf of what Voltaire calls, La bibliotheque du Monde. It is adapted, perhaps, for those ingenious minds, who, long attached to classical studies, are not conversant with the characters and revolutions of modern literature. I also aspire to please heads which are well dressed, and to be sometimes held by those fair hands which are washed in Olympian dews. But where I rejoice to have found this work received with utility and delight, is by those who with a lively taste for literary history, by a remote residence from the metropolis, find it impossible to indulge in the luxuries of a public library.

It is not always the most profound works which are the most useful, or the most agreeable. Books which do not present discoveries, and which even repeat what has sometimes been more happily expressed, may be precious to the community at large, who, without the intermediate aid of such a writer, would never have met with, or consulted the original authors. He does not write in vain, who addresses himself to so considerable a portion of his fellow-citizens. It is the ignorant bigotry of learning, that decides on works (and this is a very usual error) which are not adapted to its particular taste. the man whose reflection may be more vigorous than his learning, frequently is in want of those works which may not be required by men of learning.

I shall close this short preface by the following passage, from one of Johnson’s Adventurers. ‘He is by no means to be accounted useless or idle, who has stored his mind with acquired knowledge, and can detail it occasionally to others who have less leisure, or weaker abilities.’ In Johnson I have found an eloquent counsellor, and in the Public perhaps a too favourable judge.

I D’ISRAELI

25 MARCH, 1794


Editor’s Notes

This new (third?) edition of the second volume ‘with large additions and improvements’ was, as the above byline suggests, published in 1794.