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PREFACE TO A REPRINT OF THE EDINDURGH REVIEW OF 1755. * - Sir James Mackintosh, The Miscellaneous Works 
The Miscellaneous Works. Three Volumes, complete in One. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1871).
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PREFACE TO A REPRINT OF THE EDINDURGH REVIEW OF 1755.*
It is generally known that two numbers of a Critical Journal were published at Edinburgh in the year 1755, under the title of the “Edinburgh Review.” The following volume contains an exact reprint of that Review, now become so rare that it is not to be found in the libraries of some of the most curious collectors. To this reprint are added the names of the writers of the most important articles. Care has been taken to authenticate the list of names by reference to well-informed persons, and by comparison with copies in the possession of those who have derived their information from distinct and independent sources. If no part of it should be now corrected by those Scotchmen of letters still living, who may have known the fact from the writers themselves, we may regard this literary secret as finally discovered, with some gratification to the curious reader, and without either pain to the feelings, or wrong to the character of any one. There are few anonymous writers the discovery of whose names would be an object of curiosity after the lapse of sixty years: there are perhaps still fewer whose secret might be exposed to the public after that long period with perfect security to their reputation for equity and forbearance.
The mere circumstance that this volume contains the first printed writings of Adam Smith and Robertson, and the only known publication of Lord Chancellor Rosslyn, will probably be thought a sufficient reason for its present appearance.
Of the eight articles which appear to have been furnished by Dr. Robertson, six are on historical subjects. Written during the composition of the History of Scotland, they show evident marks of the wary understanding, the insight into character, the right judgment in affairs, and the union of the sober speculation of a philosopher with the practical prudence of a statesman, as well as the studied elegance and somewhat ceremonious stateliness of style which distinguish his more elaborate writings. He had already succeeded in guarding his diction against the words and phrases of the dialect which he habitually spoke;—an enterprise in which he had no forerunner, and of which the difficulty even now can only be estimated by a native of Scotland. The dread of inelegance in a language almost foreign kept him, as it has kept succeeding Scotch writers, at a distance from the familiar English, the perfect use of which can be acquired only by conversation from the earlist years. Two inaccurate expressions only are to be found in these early and hasty productions of this elegant writer. Instead of “individuals” he uses the Gallicism “particulars;” and for “enumeration” he employs “induction,”—a term properly applicable only with a view to the general inference which enumeration affords. In the review of the History of Peter the Great it is not uninteresting to find it remarked, that the violence and ferocity of that renowned barbarian perhaps partly fitted him to be the reformer of a barbarous people; as it was afterwards observed in the Histories of Scotland and of Charles V., that a milder and more refined character might have somewhat disqualified Luther and Knox for their great work. Two articles being on Scottish affairs were natural relaxations for the historian of Scotland. In that which relates to the Catalogue of Scottish Bishops we observe a subdued smile at the eagerness of the antiquary and the ecclesiastical partisan, qualified indeed by a just sense of the value of the collateral information which their toil may chance to throw up, but which he was too cautious and decorous to have hazarded in his avowed writings. That he reviewed Douglas’ Account of North America was a fortunate circumstance, if we may suppose that the recollection might at a distant period have contributed to suggest the composition of the History of America. None of these writings could have justified any expectation of his historical fame; because they furnished no occasion for exerting the talent for narration,—the most difficult but the most necessary attainment for an historian, and one in which he has often equalled the greatest masters of his art. In perusing the two essays of a literary sort ascribed to him, it may seem that he has carried lenient and liberal criticism to an excess. His mercy to the vicious style of Hervey may have been in some measure the result of professional prudence: but it must be owned that he does not seem enough aware of the interval between Gray and Shenstone, and that he names versifiers now wholly forgotten. Had he and his associates, however, erred on the opposite extreme,—had they underrated and vilified works of genius, their fault would now appear much more offensive. To overrate somewhat the inferior degrees of real merit which are reached by contemporaries is indeed the natural disposition of superior minds, when they are neither degraded by jealousy nor inflamed by hostile prejudice. The faint and secondary beauties of contemporaries are aided by novelty; they are brought near enough to the attention by curiosity, and they are compared with their competitors of the same time instead of being tried by the test of likeness to the produce of all ages and nations. This goodnatured exaggeration encourages talent, and gives pleasure to readers as well as writers, without any permanent injury to the public taste. The light which seems brilliant only because it is near the eye, cannot reach the distant observer. Books which please for a year, which please for ten years, and which please for ever, gradually take their destined stations. There is little need of harsh criticism to forward this final justice. The very critic who has bestowed too prodigal praise, if he long survives his criticism, will survive also his harmless error. Robertson never reased to admire Gray: but he lived long enough probably to forget the name of Jago.
In the contributions of Dr. Adam Smith it is easy to trace his general habits both of thinking and writing. Among the inferior excellencies of this great philosopher, it is not to be forgotten that in his full and flowing composition he manages the English language with a freer hand and with more native ease than any other Scottish writer. Robertson avoids Scotticisms: but Smith might be taken for an English writer not peculiarly idiomatical. It is not improbable that the early lectures of Hutcheson, an eloquent native of Ireland, and a residence at Oxford from the age of seventeen to that of twenty-four, may have aided Smith in the attainment of this more free and native style. It must however be owned, that his works, confined to subjects of science or speculation, do not afford the severest test of a writer’s familiarity with a language. On such subjects it is comparatively easy, without any appearance of constraint or parade, to avoid the difficulties of idiomatical expression by the employment of general and technical terms. His review of Johnson’s Dictionary is chiefly valuable as a proof that neither of these eminent persons was well qualified to write an English dictionary. The plan of Johnson and the specimens of Smith are alike faulty. At that period, indeed, neither the cultivation of our old literature, nor the study of the languages from which the English springs or to which it is related, nor the habit of observing the general structure of language, was so far advanced as to render it possible for this great work to approach perfection. His parallel between French and English writers* is equally just and ingenious, and betrays very little of that French taste in polite letters, especially in dramatic poetry to which Dr. Smith and his friend Mr. Hume were prone. The observations on the life of a savage, which when seen from a distance appears to be divided between Arcadian repose and chivalrous adventure, and by this union is the most alluring object of general curiosity and the natural scene of the golden age both of the legendary, and of the paradoxical sophist, are an example of those original speculations on the reciprocal influence of society and opinions which characterize the genius of Smith. The commendation of Rousseau’s eloquent Dedication to the Republic of Geneva, for expressing “that ardent and passionate esteem which it becomes a good citizen to entertain for the government of his country and the character of his countrymen,” is an instance of the seeming exaggeration of just principles, arising from the employment of the language of moral feeling, as that of ethical philosophy, which is very observable in the Theory of Moral Sentiments.
Though the contributions of Alexander Wedderburn, afterwards Earl of Rosslyn, afforded little scope for the display of mental superiority, it is not uninteresting to examine the first essays in composition of a man whose powers of reason and eloquence raised him to the highest dignity of the state. A Greek grammar and two law books were allotted to him as subjects of criticism. Humble as these subjects are, an attentive perusal will discover in his remarks on them a distinctness of conception and a terseness as well as precision of language which are by no means common qualities of writing. One error in the use of the future tense deserves notice only as it shows the difficulties which he had to surmount in acquiring what costs an Englishman no study. The praise bestowed in his Preface on Buchanan for an “undaunted spirit of liberty,” is an instance of the change which sixty years have produced in political sentiment. Though that great writer was ranked among the enemies of monarchy,* the praise of him, especially in Scotland, was a mark of fidelity to a government which, though monarchical, was founded on the principles of the Revolution, and feared no danger but from the partisans of hereditary right. But the criticisms and the ingenious and judicious Preface show the early taste of a man who at the age of twenty-two withstands every temptation to unseasonable display. The love of letters, together with talents already conspicuous, had in the preceding year (1754) placed him in the chair at the first meeting of a literary society of which Hume and Smith were members. The same dignified sentiment attended him through a long life of activity and ambition, and shed a lustre over his declining years. It was respectably manifested by fidelity to the literary friends of his youth, and it gave him a disposition, perhaps somewhat excessive, to applaud every shadow of the like merit in others.
The other writers are only to be regarded as respectable auxiliaries in such an undertaking. Dr. Blair is an useful example, that a station among good writers may be attained by assiduity and good sense, with the help of an uncorrupted taste; while for the want of these qualities, it is often not reached by others whose powers of mind may be allied to genius.
The delicate task of reviewing the theological publications of Scotland was allotted to Mr. Jardine, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, whose performance of that duty would have required no particular notice, had it not contributed with other circumstances to bring the work to its sudden and unexpected close. At the very moment when Mr. Wedderburn (in his note at the end of the second number) had announced an intention to enlarge the plan, he and his colleagues were obliged to relinquish the work.
The temper of the people of Scotland was at that moment peculiarly jealous on every question that approached the boundaries of theology. A popular election of the parochial clergy had been restored with Presbytery by the Revolution. The rights of Patrons had been reimposed on the Scottish Church in the last years of Queen Anne, by Ministers who desired, if they did not meditate, the re-establishment of Episcopacy. But for thirty years afterwards this unpopular right was either disused by the Patrons or successfully resisted by the people. The zealous Presbyterians still retained the doctrine and spirit of the Covenanters; and their favourite preachers, bred up amidst the furious persecutions of Charles the Second, had rather learnt piety and fortitude than acquired that useful and ornamental learning which becomes their order in times of quiet. Some of them had separated from the Church on account of lay Patronage, among other marks of degeneracy. But besides these Seceders, the majority of the Established clergy were adverse to the law of Patronage, and disposed to connive at resistance to its execution. On the other hand, the more lettered and refined ministers of the Church, who had secretly relinquished many parts of the Calvinistic system,—from the unpopularity of their own opinions and modes of preaching, from their connection with the gentry who held the rights of Patronage, and from repugnance to the vulgar and illiterate ministers whom turbulent elections had brought into the Church,—became hostile to the interference of the people, and zealously laboured to enforce the execution of a law which had hitherto remained almost dormant. The Orthodox party maintained the rights of the people against a regulation imposed on them by their enemies; and the party which in matters of religion claimed the distinction of liberality and toleration, contended for the absolute authority of the civil magistrate to the destruction of a right which more than any other interested the conscience of the people of Scotland. At the head of this last party was Dr. Robertson, one of the contributors to the present volume, who about the time of its appearance was on the eve of effecting a revolution in the practice of the Church, by at length compelling the stubborn Presbyterians to submit to the authority of a law which they abhorred.
Another circumstance rendered the time very perilous for Scotch reviewers of ecclesiastical publications. The writings of Mr. Hume, the intimate friend of the leader of the tolerant clergy, very naturally excited the alarm of the Orthodox party, who, like their predecessors of the preceding age, were zealous for the rights of the people, but confined their charity within the pale of their own communion, and were much disposed to regard the impunity of heretics and infidels as a reproach to a Christian magistrate. In the year 1754 a complaint to the General Assembly against the philosophical writings of Mr. Hume and Lord Kames was with difficulty eluded by the friends of free discussion. The writers of the Review were aware of the danger to which they were exposed by these circumstances. They kept the secret of their Review from Mr. Hume, the most intimate friend of some of them. They forbore to notice in it his History of the Stuarts, of which the first volume appeared at Edinburgh two months before the publication of the Review; though it is little to say that it was the most remarkable work which ever issued from the Scottish press.
They trusted that the moderation and well-known piety of Mr. Jardine would conduct them safely through the suspicion and jealousy of jarring parties. Nor does it in fact appear that any part of his criticisms is at variance with that enlightened reverence for religion which he was known to feel; but he was somewhat influenced by the ecclesiastical party to which he adhered. He seems to have thought that he might securely assail the opponents of Patronage through the sides of Erskine, Boston, and other popular preachers, who were either Seceders, or divines of the same school. He even ventured to use the weapon of ridicule against their extravagant metaphors, their wire-drawn allegories, their mean allusions, and to laugh at those who complained of “the connivance at Popery, the toleration of Prelacy, the pretended rights of Lay Patrons,—of heretical professors in the universities, and a lax clergy in possession of the churches,” as the crying evils of the time.
This species of attack, at a moment when the religious feelings of the public were thus susceptible, appears to have excited general alarm. The Orthodox might blame the writings criticised without approving the tone assumed by the critic: the multitude were exasperated by the scorn with which their favourite writers were treated: and many who altogether disapproved these writings might consider ridicule as a weapon of doubtful propriety against language habitually employed to convey the religious and moral feelings of a nation. In these circumstances the authors of the Review did not think themselves bound to hazard their quiet, reputation, and interest, by perseverance in their attempt to improve the taste of their countrymen.
It will not be supposed that the remarks made above on the ecclesiastical parties in Scotland sixty years ago can have any reference to their political character at the present day. The principles of toleration now seem to prevail among the Scottish clergy more than among any other established church in Europe. A public act of the General Assembly may be considered as a renunciation of that hostility to the full toleration of Catholics which was for a long time the disgrace of the most liberal Protestants. The party called ‘Orthodox’ are purified from the intolerance which unhappily reigned among their predecessors, and have in general adopted those principles of religious liberty which the sincerely pious, when consistent with themselves, must be the foremost to maintain. Some of them also, even in these times, espouse those generous and sacred principles of civil liberty which distinguished the old Puritans, and which in spite of their faults entitle them to be ranked among the first benefactors of their country.*
[* ] Published in 1816.—Ed.
[* ] Letter to the Editor, at the end of the volume.
[* ] He is usually placed with Languet and Althusen among the Monarchomists.
[* ] “The precious spark of liberty had been kindled and was preserved by the Puritans alone: and it was to this sect, whose principles appear so frivolous and habits so ridiculous, that the English owe the whole freedom of their constitution.”—Hume, History of England, chap. xl. This testimony to the merits of the Puritans, from the mouth of their enemy, must be owned to be founded in exaggeration. But if we allow them to have materially contributed to the preservation of English liberty, we must acknowledge that the world owes more to the ancient Puritans than to any other sect or party among men.