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which, to the majority of his readers, were formerly indifferent or unknown, but, what was still more difficult, to unite in his portraits the truth of nature with the softenings of art, and to reject whatever was, unmeaning or offensive in the drapery, without effacing the characteristic garb of the times. In this task of “conquering.” (as: Livy expresses it) “.
66. the “ rudeness of antiquity by the art of writing,” they alone are able to judge how far Dr Robertson has succeeded, who have compared his work with the materials out of which it was formed.
Nor are these sacrifices to modern taste inconsistent with the fidelity of a history which records - the transactions of former ages. On the contrary, they aid the judgment of the reader in forming a philosophical estimate of the condition and character of our ancestors, by counteracting that strong bias of the mind which confounds human nature and human life with the adventitious and ever-changing attire which they borrow from fashion. When we read the compositions of Buchanan in his native tongue;-abounding in idioms which are now appropriated to the most illiterate classes of the people, and accompanied with an orthography which sug; gests the coarsest forms of Scotish pronunciation ;--how difficult do we find it to persuade ourselves, that we are conversing with a writer, whose Latin productions vie with the best models of antiquity! No fact can illustrate more strong
ly the necessity of correcting our common impressions concerning the antient state of Scotland, by translating, not only the antiquated phraseology of our forefathers into a more modern idiom, but by translating (if I may use the expression) their antiquated fashions into the corresponding fashions of our own times.
The peculiar: circumstances of Scotland since the union of the crowns, are extremely apt to warp our ideas with respect to its previous History. The happy but slow effects produced by the union of the kitigdoms do not extend beyond the memory of some of our contemporaries ; and the traditions we have received concerning the condition of our immediate predecessors are apt to impress us with a belief that, at a still earlier period, the gloom was proportionally more deep and universal. It requires an effort of reflection to conceive the effects which must have resulted from the residence of a court; and it is not, perhaps, easy for us to avoid underrating the importance of that court while it existed. During the long and intimate intercourse with England, which preceded the disputed succession between Bruce and Baliol, it was certainly not without its share of that “ baru baric pomp” which was then affected by the English Sovereigns; nor, under our later kings, connected as it was with the court of France, could it be altogether untinctured with those envied manners and habits, of which that country has been always regarded as the parent soil, and which do not seem to be the native growth of either part of our island. These circumstances, accordingly, (aided, perhaps, in no inconsiderable degree, by the field of ambition presented by an opulent Hierarchy) appear to bave operated powerfully on the national spirit and genius. The studies which were then valued in other parts of Europe, were cultivated by many our countrymen with distinguished success : Nor was their own vernacular tongue neglected by those, whose rank or situation destined them for public affairs. At the æra, more particularly, when Dr Robertson's History closes, it was so rapidly assuming a more regular form, that, excepting by a different system of orthography, and a few inconsiderable peculiarities of dialect, the epistolary style of some of our Scotish statesmen is hardly distinguishable from that of Queen Elizabeth's ministers.
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; This æra was followed by a long and melancholy period, not less fatal to genius than to morals; and which had scarcely arrived at its complete termination, when Dr Robertson appeared as an author; aspiring at once to adorn the monuments of former times, when Scotland was yet a king. dom, and to animate his countrymen by his example, in reviving its literary honours.
Before quitting this first work of Dr Robertson, I must not omit to mention (what forms the strongest testimony of its excellence), the severe trial it had to undergo in the public judgment, by appearing nearly at the same time with that volume of Mr Hume's history, which involves an account of Scotishi affairs during the reigns of Queen Mary and King James. It is not my intention to attempt a parallel of these two eminent writers : nor, indeed, would the sincerity of their mutual attachment, and the lively recollection of it which still remains with many of their common friends, justify me in stating their respective merits in the way of opposition. Their peculiar excellencies, besides, were of a kind so different, that they might be justly said in the language which a Roman Critic employs in speaking of Livy and Sallust) to be pares magis quam similes. They divide between them the honour of having supplied an important blank in English literature, by enabling their countrymen to dispute the palm of historical writing with the other nations of Europe. Many have since followed their example, in attempting to bestow interest and ornament on different portions of British story; but the public voice sufficiently acquits me of any partiality when I
say, that hitherto they have only been followed at a distance. In this respect, I may with confidence apply to them the panegyric which Quinctilian pronounces on the two great Historians of Ancient Greece ;—and, perhaps, if I were inclined to characterize the beauties most prominent in each, I might, without much impropriety, avail myself of the contrast with which that panegyric concludes.
“ Historiam multi scripsere, sed nemo dubitat, duos longe “ cæteris præferendos, quorum diversa virtus laudem pene “ est parem consecula. Densus .et brevis et semper instans “ sibi Thucydides. Dulcis et candidus et fusus Herodotus. “ Ille concitatis, hic remissis affectibus melior, Ille vi, hic “ voluptate.”