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Review Of Memoirs Of The Court Of Augustus
by [?]

[1]

The first effect, which this book has upon the reader, is that of disgusting him with the author’s vanity. He endeavours to persuade the world, that here are some new treasures of literature spread before his eyes; that something is discovered, which, to this happy day, had been concealed in darkness; that, by his diligence, time has been robbed of some valuable monument which he was on the point of devouring; and that names and facts, doomed to oblivion, are now restored to fame.

How must the unlearned reader be surprised, when he shall be told that Mr. Blackwell has neither digged in the ruins of any demolished city, nor found out the way to the library of Fez; nor had a single book in his hands, that has not been in the possession of every man that was inclined to read it, for years and ages; and that his book relates to a people, who, above all others, have furnished employment to the studious, and amusements to the idle; who have scarcely left behind them a coin or a stone, which has not been examined and explained a thousand times; and whose dress, and food, and household stuff, it has been the pride of learning to understand.

A man need not fear to incur the imputation of vicious diffidence or affected humility, who should have forborne to promise many novelties, when he perceived such multitudes of writers possessed of the same materials, and intent upon the same purpose. Mr. Blackwell knows well the opinion of Horace, concerning those that open their undertakings with magnificent promises; and he knows, likewise, the dictates of common sense and common honesty, names of greater authority than that of Horace, who direct, that no man should promise what he cannot perform.

I do not mean to declare, that this volume has nothing new, or that the labours of those who have gone before our author, have made his performance an useless addition to the burden of literature. New works may be constructed with old materials; the disposition of the parts may show contrivance; the ornaments interspersed may discover elegance.

It is not always without good effect, that men, of proper qualifications, write, in succession, on the same subject, even when the latter add nothing to the information given by the former; for the same ideas may be delivered more intelligibly or more delightfully by one than by another, or with attractions that may lure minds of a different form. No writer pleases all, and every writer may please some.

But, after all, to inherit is not to acquire; to decorate is not to make; and the man, who had nothing to do but to read the ancient authors, who mention the Roman affairs, and reduce them to common places, ought not to boast himself as a great benefactor to the studious world.

After a preface of boast, and a letter of flattery, in which he seems to imitate the address of Horace, in his “vile potabis modicis Sabinum”–he opens his book with telling us, that the “Roman republic, after the horrible proscription, was no more at bleeding Rome. The regal power of her consuls, the authority of her senate, and the majesty of her people, were now trampled under foot; these [for those] divine laws and hallowed customs, that had been the essence of her constitution–were set at nought, and her best friends were lying exposed in their blood.”

These were surely very dismal times to those who suffered; but I know not, why any one but a schoolboy, in his declamation, should whine over the commonwealth of Rome, which grew great only by the misery of the rest of mankind. The Romans, like others, as soon as they grew rich, grew corrupt, and, in their corruption, sold the lives and freedoms of themselves, and of one another.