CONTAINING THE CHRONICLES OF THE REIGN OF WILLIAM THE TESTY.
When the lofty Thucydides is about to enter upon his description of the plague that desolated Athens, one of his modern commentators assures the reader that the history is now going to be exceedingly solemn, serious and pathetic; and hints, with that air of chuckling gratulation with which a good dame draws forth a choice morsel from a cupboard to regale a favorite, that this plague will give his history a most agreeable variety.
In like manner did my heart leap within me when I came to the dolorous dilemma of Fort Good Hope, which I at once perceived to be the forerunner of a series of great events and entertaining disasters. Such are the true subjects for the historic pen. For what is history, in fact, but a kind of Newgate Calendar—a register of the crimes and miseries that man has inflicted on his fellow-men? It is a huge libel on human nature to which we industriously add page after page, volume after volume, as if we were building up a monument to the honor, rather than the infamy, of our species. If we turn over the pages of these chronicles that man has written of himself, what are the characters dignified by the appellation of great, and held up to the admiration of posterity? Tyrants, robbers, conquerors, renowned only for the magnitude of their misdeeds and the stupendous wrongs and miseries they have inflicted on mankind—warriors, who have hired themselves to the trade of blood, not from motives of virtuous patriotism, or to protect the injured and defenseless, but merely to gain the vaunted glory of being adroit and successful in massacring their fellow-beings! What are the great events that constitute a glorious era? The fall of empires, the desolation of happy countries, splendid cities smoking in their ruins, the proudest works of art tumbled in the dust, the shrieks and groans of whole nations ascending unto heaven!
It is thus the historians may be said to thrive on the miseries of mankind, like birds of prey which hover over the field of battle to fatten on the mighty dead. It was observed by a great projector of inland lock navigation, that rivers, lakes, and oceans were only formed to feed canals. In like manner I am tempted to believe that plots, conspiracies, wars, victories, and massacres are ordained by Providence only as food for the historian.