« ElőzőTovább »
HOUGH the Scheme of the following Mifcellany is fo obvious, that the Title alone is fufficient to explain it; and though feveral 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 poffeffed of the greatest Variety for fuch a Work, hope for a more general Reception than those confined Schemes had the Fortune to meet with; and, therefore, think it not wholly unneceffary to explain our Intentions, to display the Treafure of Materials out of which this Mifcellany is to be compiled, and to exhibit a general Idea of the Pieces which we intend to infert in it.
There is, perhaps, no Nation in which it is fo neceffary, as in our own, to affemble, from time VOL. II.
to time, the fmall Tracts and fugitive Pieces, which are occafionally published: For, befides the general Subjects of Enquiry, which are cultivated by us, in common with every other learned Nation, our Conftitution in Church and State naturally gives Birth to a Multitude of Performances, 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 Leifure, or Curiofity, or Vanity, the Right of enquiring into the Propriety of publick Meafures, and, by Confequence, obliges those who are intrufted with the Adminiftration of national Affairs, to give an Account of their Conduct to almost every Man who demands it, may be reafonably imagined to have occafioned innumerable Pamphlets, which would never have appeared under arbitrary Governments, where every Man lulls himfelf in Indolence under Calamities, of which he cannot promote the Redrefs, or thinks it prudent to conceal the Uneafinefs, 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 unexhauftible Publication, almoft peculiar to ourselves; for Controverfies cannot be long continued, nor frequently revived, where an Inquifitor has a Right to fhut up the Difputants in Dungeons; or where Silence can be imposed on either Party, by the Refufal of a Licenfe.
Not that it should be inferred from hence, that political or religious Controverfies are the only Products of the Liberty of the Britifh Prefs; the Mind once let loose to Enquiry, and fuffered to operate without Reftraint, neceffarily deviates into peculiar Opinions, and wanders in new Tracks, where the is indeed sometimes lost in a Labyrinth, from which though
though the cannot return, and scarce knows how to proceed; yet, fometimes, makes useful Discoveries, or finds out nearer Paths to Knowledge.
The boundless Liberty with which every Man may write his own Thoughts, and the Opportanity of conveying new Sentiments to the Publick, without Danger of fuffering either Ridicule or Cenfure, which every Man may enjoy, whofe Vanity does not incite him too haftily to own his Performances, naturally invites thofe who employ themselves in Speculation, to try how their Notions will be received by a Nation, which exempts Caution from Fear, and Modefty from Shame; and it is no Wonder, that where Reputation may be gained, but needs not be loft, Multitudes are willing to try their Fortune, and thruft their Opinions into the Light; fometimes with unfuccessful Haste, and sometimes with happy Temerity.
It is obferved, that, among the Natives of England, is to be found a greater Variety of Humour, than in any other Country; and, doubtlefs, where every Man has a full Liberty to propagate his Conceptions, Variety of Humour muft produce Variety of Writers; and, where the Number of Authors is fo great, there cannot but be fome worthy of Distinction.
All these, and many other Causes, too tedious to be enumerated, have contributed to make Pamphlets and small Tracts a very important Part of an English Library; nor are there any Pieces, upon which thofe, who afpire to the Reputation of judicious Collectors of Books, beftow more Attention, or greater Expence; because many Advantages may be expected from the Perufal of thefe fmall Productions, which are scarcely to be found in that of larger Works.
If we regard Hiftory, it is well known, that most political Treatifes have for a long Time appeared in B 2
this Form, and that the firft Relations of Tranf actions, while they are yet the Subject of Converfation, divide the Opinions, and employ the Conjectures of Mankind, are delivered by thefe petty Writers, who have Opportunities of collecting the different Sentiments of Difputants, of enquiring the Truth from living Witneffes, and of copying their Reprefentations from the Life; and, therefore, they preferve a Multitude of particular Incidents, which are forgotten in a fhort Time, or omitted in formal Relations, and which are yet to be confidered as Sparks of Truth, which, when united, may afford Light in fome of the darkeft Scenes of State, as we doubt not, will be fufficiently proved in the Courfe of this Mifcellany; and which it is, therefore, the Intereft of the Publick to preferve unextinguished.
The fame Obfervation may be extended to Subjects of yet more Importance. In Controverfies that relate to the Truths of Religion, the firft Effays 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 moft Part, in fmall Tracts: By Degrees, that they may not fhock their Readers with too many Novelties at once; and in small Tracts, that they may be easily dispersed, or privately printed: Almost every Controverfy, therefore, has been, for a Time carried on in Pamphlets, nor has fwelled into larger Volumes, till the firft Ardor of the Dif putants has fubfided, and they have recollected their Notions with Coolness enough to digeft them into Order, confolidate them into Systems, and fortify them with Authorities.
From Pamphlets, confequently, are to be learned the Progrefs of every Debate; the various State to which the Questions have been changed; the Artifices and Fallacies which have been used, and the Subterfuges, by which Reason has been eluded: In