« السابقةمتابعة »
ducts of the liberty of the British prefs; the mind once let loofe to enquiry, and fuffered to operate without reilraint, neceffarily deviates into peculiar opinions, and wanders in new tracks, where the is indeed fometimes loft in a labyrinth, from which though the cannot return, and fearce knows how to proceed; yet, fometimes, makes ufeful difcoveries, or finds out nearer paths to knowledge.
The boundless liberty with which every man may write his own thoughts, and the opportunity of conveying new fentiments 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 themfelves in fpeculation, to try how their notions will be received by a nation, which exempts caution from fear, and modefty from fhame; 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 unfuccefsful hafte, and fometimes 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 must produce variety of writers; and, where the number of authors is fo great, there cannot but be fome worthy of
All thefe, and many other caufes, too tedious to be enumerated, have contributed to make pamphlets
and finall tracts a very important part of an English library; nor are there any pieces, upon which those, who afpire to the reputation of judicious collectors of books, bestow more attention, or greater expence; because many advantages may be expected from the perusal of these small productions, which are scarcely to be found in that of larger works.
If we regard history, it is well known, that most political treatises have for a long time appeared in this form, and that the first relations of tranfactions, while they are yet the subject of converfation, divide the opinions, and employ the conjectures of mankind, are delivered by these petty writers, who have opportunities of collecting the different fentiments of difputants, of enquiring the truth from living witnesses, and of copying their representations from the life; and, therefore, they preferve a multitude of particular incidents, which are forgotten in a short time, or omitted in formal relations, and which are yet to be confidered as fparks of truth, which, when united, may afford light in fome of the darkest scenes of state, as we doubt not, will be fufficiently proved in the course of this miscellany; and which it is, therefore, the intereft of the publick to preserve unextinguished.
The fame obfervation may be extended to subjects of yet more importance. In controverfies that relate to the truths of religion, the first effays of reformation are generally timorous; and those, who have opinions to offer, which they expect to be opposed, produce their sentiments, by degrees; and, for the most part, in small tracts: by degrees, that they may not fhock their readers with too VOL. IX. A a many
many novelties at once; and in finall tracts, the they may be cafily difperfed, or privately printed: almost every controverfy, therefore, has been, fr a time, carried on in pamphlets, nor has fweird into larger volumes, till the first ardor of the d putants has fubfided, and they have recollected ther notions with coolness enough to digest them in order, confolidate them into fyftems, and fort.j them with authorities.
From pamphlets, confequently, are to be learned the progrefs of every debate; the various ftate to which the questions have been changed; the artifices and fallacies which have been used, and t'e fubterfuges by which reafon has been cluded: in fuch writings may be feen how the mind has brea opened by degrees, how one truth has led to another, how error has been difentangled, and hints improved to demonftration, which pleafure, and many others, are loft by him that only reads the larger writers, by whom thefe fcattered fentiments are collected, who will fee none of the charges of fortune which every opinion has paffed through, will have no opportunity of remarking the tranfient advantages which error may fometimes obtain, by the artifices of its patron, or the fuccefsful rallies by which truth regains the day, after a repule; but will be to him, who traces the difpute through into particular gradations, as he that hears, of a victory, to him that fees the battle.
Since the advantages of preferving thefe frall tracts are fo numerous, our attempt to unite them in volumes cannot be thought either ufclefs or unfafonable, for there is no other method of fecuring
them from accidents; and they have already been fo long neglected, that this defign cannot be delayed, without hazarding the lofs of many pieces, which deferve to be tranfmitted to another age.
The practice of publishing pamphlets on the moft important fubjects, has now prevailed more than two centuries among us; and therefore it cannot be doubted, but that, as no large collections have been yet made, many curious tracts must have perished; but it is too late to lament that lofs; nor ought we to reflect upon it, with any other view, than that of quickening our endeavours for the prefervation of thofe that yet remain; of which we have now a greater number, than was, perhaps, ever amaffed by any one perfon.
The first appearance of pamphlets among us, is generally thought to be at the new oppofition raised against the errors and corruptions of the church of Rome. Those who were firft convinced of the reafonableness of the new learning, as it was then called, propagated their opinions in fmall pieces, which were cheaply printed; and, what was then of great importance, eafily concealed. Thefe treatifes were generally printed in foreign countries, and are not, therefore, always very correct. There was not then that opportunity of printing in private; for the number of printers were small, and the preffes were easily overlooked by the clergy, who fpared no labour or vigilance for the fuppreffion of herefy. There is, however, reafon to fufpect, that fome attempts were made to carry on the propagation of truth by a fecret prefs; for one of the firft treatifes in favour of the Reformation, is faid, at the end, A a 2
to be printed at Greenwich, by the permiffion of e Lord of Hofts.
In the time of king Edward the Sixth, the prefes were employed in favour of the reformed religion, and fmall tracts were difperfed over the nation, to reconcile them to the new forms of worship. Ia this reign, likewife, political pamphlets may be faid to have been begun, by the addrefs of the rebels cf Devonshire; all which means of propagating the fentiments of the people fo difturbed the court, that no fooner was queen Mary refolved to reduce her fubjects to the Romish fuperftition, but the artfully, by a charter granted to certain freemen of Lon.kr, in whofe fidelity, no doubt, fhe confided, intirely prohibited all preffes, but what fhould be licenfed by them; which charter is that by which the corporation of Stationers in London is at this time incorporated.
Under the reign of queen Elizabeth, when liberty again began to flourish, the practice of writing pamphlets became more general; prefies were multiplied, and books were difperfed; and, I believe, it may properly be faid, that the trade of writing began at that time, and that it has ever fince gradually increafed in the number, though, perhaps, not in the ftyle of thofe that followed it.
In this reign was erected the first fecret pres against the church as now eftablished, of which I have found any certain account. It was employed
Which begins thus, Krow ye, that We, confidering, ar 1 mantently perceiving, that feveral feditious and heretical locas or traðs-agunft the faith and sound catholic doétrine et hulş * mother, the church, &c.”