« AnteriorContinua »
I BEG leave to return my sincere thanks to the
community, for the flattering reception with which this undertaking has been honoured :-A more convincing proof of that approbation which every Author most ardently desires seldom occurs, and still more seldom is expressed in so short a period as between the dates of the first appearance of the book and the present preface (March 1808 and May 1809.)
It had been my intention, from the moment I thought of tracing the habits of the residents of our Metropolis, to give a history of them from the earliest ages to the close of the last century: those early ages should certainly have been noticed first; but the length of time required for collecting materials, and the heavy expences attending printing, made it imperiously necessary that I should offer to the publick the least difficult portion of my labours, in order to ascertain whether I might proceed in safety with the remainder. The result has surpassed my hopes, and roused me to redoubled exertion in preparing for the press a volume including Anecdotes of Manners and
Customs from the Roman Invasion to 1700, in which will be found most of the apparent omissions discoverable in this; but I shall ever reserve a right to myself of saying nothing on a subject of which I have an imperfect knowledge, through impediments not always to be explained without a charge of prolixity. This circumstance, and the impossibility of knowing how the work would be received, compelled me to give a retrospective view, at the commencement of some chapters, that should contribute to render them satisfactory, provided the early portion never appeared. The readers of the Quarto edition of the History of the Eighteenth Century will therefore have the goodness to excuse the retrospective sketches in it; and those of the present will perceive the sketches alluded to are omitted, in order to confine each event to its proper æra in the work when completed.
It will be observed that I address myself in the above sentence solely to the liberal reader for information and amusement, and by no means to the invisible censors of the age, who kindly and charitably supply the place of Inquisitors without receiving their appointment either from the Church, the State, or the Publick. A person who honours this publication with his notice in the Eclectic Review remarks, "We should have thought the progress of learning, and the novelties in the trade of books, during the last century, well intitled to some regard; and, as Mr. M. has been indebted to his worthy friend Mr. Nichols for the inspection of his matchless collection of periodical publications, from which great part of his materials have been selected,' we wonder not a little how the very institution of periodical publica
tions could escape his notice." The history of literature did not escape my recollection as connected with that of the manners of the Metropolis; but you, Gentlemen Reviewers, being literary men, ought to have been aware that the very worthy friend you have mentioned had nearly printed his Literary Anecdotes of the same century, which would have appeared at the moment my Anecdotes were published, had not one general conflagration destroyed the whole of the impression, and a considerable number of my own books, and compelled the benevolent sufferer to recommence his labours. "Perhaps," continue the Reviewers, "Mr. M. did not know that the voracity of the publick for scandal demanded four editions, compris ing 19,000 copies of the Town and Country Magazine, on its first appearance." I did know the prevailing voracity for scandal, and that it was partly supplied by Reviews. I do not mean by any particular work so termed, but by individual articles in many publications of that description.
Knowing the mischievous consequences to authors, of perversion, misquotation, and misrepresentation, before the nature of Reviews was fully understood, the enlightened and excellent Dr. Blair, whose Sermons do his head and heart so much honour, wrote thus to Mr. Bruce, the celebrated Abyssinian Traveller: "I do not get the Monthly Review, and never saw that article in it which has been so injurious to you. Indeed, I seldom see any Reviews, unless what is called The Analytical one, which a friend of mine takes, and commonly sends to me; and that Review appears abundantly favourable to you. But I entirely agree with Dr. Douglas, that the Reviews
are beneath your notice. They are always guided by the interest of some booksellers; and it is not on their opinions that the reputation of books and authors will depend, I am so much of this mind, that though I lately published a volume of Sermons, I never gave myself the smallest trouble to enquire what the several Reviewers said of it, or whether they took any notice of it at all *."
It is well known that Dr. Blair had established a reputation which it was impossible to undermine by secret attacks: hence he naturally held those who aimed them at others in sovereign contempt. There are authors, however, who are endeavouring by every laudable exertion in their power to establish a similar reputation; and would frequently accomplish it, did not the secret envious Reviewer annihilate their hopes by exciting terrors in their minds, and by this means destroy all their vigour, substituting hesitation for energy, and trepidation for modest confidence in their abilities. Worthy and enviable pursuit, to wound the feelings of a man we never saw, and rob him not only of fame, but of that remuneration which the risk of his property in some degree demands from the publick he endeavours to please!
When an author so far forgets his moral obligations as to publish to the world sentiments or narratives dangerous to the beautiful order and simplicity of social life, it becomes the province of a Reviewer to expose his intentions, and lash him into a sense of his duty; nor should arrogance and presumptuous folly escape the reprehension of a gentleman from the
* Murray's Life of Bruce, p. 281.