« PreviousContinue »
am fully sensible of deficiencies, and only deeply conscious of an earnest effort to be complete, just, and true. Yet a devotion to my subject from perhaps a just pride in its grandeur, and my previous literary pursuits, may have given me, in public estimation, some aptitude for my task, and rendered me not wholly incompetent to its successful execution.
All the great departments of human knowledge admit of subdivisions and different modes of
presentment. The province of Biography is individual life; that of History, public events and occurrences. These last, when productive of momentous vicissitudes, seldom appear single, but are linked together in groups; and from a general or family designation of them we may not only catch the living likeness of the age, but its distinctive attributes and springs of move
The Protestant Reformation, for instance, was not Martin Luther's work alone, but the matured result of John Wickliffe's labours and the discovery of printing, co-operating with the vices of the Clergy and the corruptions of the Church. The great revolutionary eras of England and France offer corresponding illustrations. In both, the combined weakness, tyranny, and bigotry of the reigning dynasties, of the Stuarts in one and the Bourbons in the other,— were prominent causes of the convulsive action of each ; in England coupled with sectarian theology, and the spirit of freedom inherent in the
Anglo-Saxon race; in France conjoined with the extreme misery of the people, the brilliant appeals of her literati, and the degeneracy of the privileged orders.
These form the approximate principles upon which, in the main, I have sought to construct my work. It is not an abridgment of British history, or a brief narrative of political progress, with which every one is familiar; but a condensed embodiment in spirit and form of national development, as characterised by its most remarkable epochs ; illustrated by individual traits and memorable transitions ; and exemplified in the contemporary growth of art, industry, intellect, social life and gradations. History, biography, science, and literature, in different degrees, have been laid under contribution to complete the national picture.
If I have succeeded in my panoramic exhibition, this work may prove a useful manual to foreigners as well as to ourselves. It will be seen in the sequel that England, although later in the field, has by a cautious but assured step in threading the dark and untried passages of her career, first overtaken and next outstripped the more precocious states of Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. She is now looked up to, though still imperfect and progressive. Nations are emulous of our popular institutions, which combine national wisdom and strength with individual freedom and prosperity. But most of all they are dazzled with our material affluence, and impatient to share its fruits. In this we feel no alarm or jealousy. Emancipated from the narrow views fostered in past times of error, we now sympathise in the struggles of all nations for improvement, knowing that we shall benefit by their success in common with themselves, and only asking them to adopt a reciprocally generous and enlightened spirit of advancement.