ALL Mankind are under a great Obligation of Gratitude to those that have written Universal Histories; forasmuch as there has been an honourable Contest amongst them by their Labours and Pains, to be helpful to others in the due Conduct and Management of the common Affairs and Concerns of this present Life. For whereas they usher in a sort of wholsom Instruction, without any hazard to the Person; so they thereby also procure to their Readers, Art and Skill in Politicks, above the ordinary Rate, with great Ease and Security. For Knowledge gain'd by Experience, though it brings a Man to an Aptness to be quick in discerning what is most advisable in every particular case, yet such Knowledge is attended with many Toyls and Hazards. And thus he that was the most experienc'd Man among the Heroes, view'd many Cities, and came well to understand and prie into the Minds and Tempers of Men; yet it was with many Troubles and Misfortunes: But Knowledge of what was well or ill done by others, gain'd by History, carries along with it Instructions, freed from those Misfortunes that others have before experienc'd.
Besides, these Historians have us'd their utmost Diligence to reduce all Men in their Consideration of them (who are united and related one to another in the same common Nature and Original, though far distant each from other as to Place and Time) under one and the same Head, and common Order, as if they were Servants herein to the Divine Providence. For as Providence having marshall'd the Stars (visible to us) in a most beautiful Frame and Order, and likewise conjoyn'd the Natures of Men in a common Analogy and Likeness one to another, incessantly wheels about every Age, as in a Circle, imparting to each what is before by Fate shar'd out and allotted for them: So these Historians by committing to Writing the common Actions of Men through the whole World, as if they were the Affairs only of one City, represent their Labours as one intire Account, and common Repertory and Treasury of Human Transactions. For it's a desirable thing to be in a capacity to make use of the Mistakes of others, the better to order the course of our own Lives, and in the various Events and Accidents that may befal us, not to be then at a loss and seeking what is to be done, but rather to be able to imitate what has been well done. And certainly as to Councel and Advice, all prefer Ancient Men before those that are Young, because of their Prudence gain'd by a long Experience. But History goes as far beyond the Knowledge of Old Men, as we are sure it does surmount all their Experience in multitude of Examples. So that any Man may justly look upon it as a thing most profitable and advantageous, to make use of this upon all occasions and accidents of this Life. As for Young Men, it teaches them the Wisdom and Prudence of the Old, and increases and improves the Wisdom of the Aged: It fits Private Men for high Places; and stirs up Princes (for the sake of Honour and Glory) to these Exploits that may immortalize their Names. It incourages likewise Souldiers to Fight the more Couragiously for their Country, upon the hopes of Applause and Commendation after their Deaths. And as a Curb to the Impious and Prophane, it restrains them in some measure, upon the account of being noted to Posterity, with a perpetual Brand of Infamy and Disgrace.
What shall I say? In hopes of having the Memory of their good Acts recorded to Posterity by Historians, some have built Cities; others have apply'd themselves to the Promulgation of good and wholsom Laws: Many also upon this account, have set their Wits at work to invent Arts and Sciences for the good of Mankind. And whereas compleat Happiness is made up of all Perfections centring in one; History consequently is to bear away the Prize, which is the Cause of all those commendable and glorious effects: For it's most certain, She is the Preserver of the Virtues of Worthy Men to Posterity, and an eternal Witness to the Cowardize and Impiety of others; and a Benefactor to all Mankind in general. For if a fine spun Story consisting meerly of Fictions told of things done among the Spirits below, tends much to the promoting of Piety and Justice; how much more then may we conclude that History, the most noble Assertrix of Truth, and very Metropolis (as it were) of all Philosophy, may adorn the Manners of Men with Principles of Justice and Honesty? For there is not a Man (through the Infirmity of Human Nature) that lives scarce a moment of an entire Eternity, but is extinguish'd and gone for ever after this Life; and with those who never did any thing commendable in their Life-time, all their Injoyments and Comforts perish with them. But those who have signalized themselves by virtuous Actions, are made famous in every Age, their praises being proclaim'd as it were by a Divine Voice from History.
I judge it therefore honourable and commendable, and a piece of admirable Wisdom and Prudence, to purchase that Glory which is immortal, with Labours and Sufferings that are but short and temporal. It's confess'd by all concerning Hercules, that while he was here upon Earth, he voluntarily undertook great and continual Labours, and ran through many Dangers, that by doing good to Mankind, he might gain the Reward of an Immortal Fame. And as to other Men, some are honour'd as Heroes, others Deify'd as Gods, and all by the help and advantage of History, which has transmitted their Virtues to Posterity, and caus'd the Remembrance of them to be immortal. Other Monuments indure but for a little time, and are often ruin'd and destroy'd by various Accidents; but the force and vigour of History, pierces through the whole World, and Time it self (which consumes all other things) is its Keeper, handing it down to Posterity for ever.
History likewise conduces much to make a Man Eloquent, than which nothing is more commendable; for by this Grecians excel Barbarians, and the Learn'd those that are Ignorant: And by this Art alone it is, that one single Person many times prevails over Multitudes.
To conclude; Whatever is done, appears to be such either as to Quantity or Quality, as the Eloquent Rhetorician is pleas'd to make it. And such we call Good Men, Men of high Esteem for excellent Language, as those that by that Qualification have attain'd to the highest pitch of Virtue. But this Art of Speaking well, is divided into several Parts: That part which is Poetical, seems to delight more than to profit the Auditor; that which relates to making of Laws, tends more to Coertion than Instruction; and the other parts either contribute nothing at all to our well-being; or they are as hurtful one way, as they are useful and profitable another; and some of them even oppose the Truth with downright Lyes.
But History only (wherein Words and Things agree) comprehends in Writing, what is both pleasant and profitable; For who cannot discern, but that it perswades to Justice; condemns the wicked and vicious; praises the good, and greatly improves the Understanding of the Readers? And therefore when we saw these sort of Writers deservedly in great Esteem, we were stir'd up to an earnest study of prosecuting the same Subject.
But when we seriously consider the Authors that have been before us, though we highly approve of their Method and Design, as far as we may justly; yet we conceive their Writings are not altogether compos'd to the due Measure of Profit and Advantage as they ought to be. For whereas to profit the Reader, it's necessarily requisite, that many and various Circumstances of Affairs be related; many set forth the Wars only of one Nation, or one single City; for very few have begun their Histories from Antient Times, or have made it their Business to write of the Affairs of all Nations in General, to these our Days. And those that do, some of them fix no certain Time to the several Transactions they write of; and others altogether pass over the Affairs of the Barbarians. And some there are that never mention the Ancient Mythologies, but slip them by, because of the Difficulty of the Subject. Some that have begun to write, have been prevented by Death, and so have left their Works imperfect. And none who have hitherto set themselves to this Business, have brought down their History below the Times of the Macedonians: For some have broke off at Philip, others at the Acts of Alexander, and others at his Successors or Posterity. And although many great and considerable Actions since those Times, to these our Days, have been upon the Stage; yet no Historian has hitherto undertaken to set them forth in one intire Tract, by reason of the Tediousness of the Work. And in regard that in those Writings which we have, the Times and Actions that have been comprehended in them, are hudled together in several Volumes, writ by various and several Authors, it's a very difficult matter either to understand, or remember them.
Having therefore diligently perus'd and examin'd the Tracts of the several Authors, I determin'd to compose one intire History, from which the Reader might reap much Advantage, with little Labour and Pains: For he who endeavours to the utmost of his power, to comprehend in his Writings, the memorable Affairs and Actions of the whole World (as of one single City,) bringing down his History from the most ancient Times to his own Age, though he set upon a Work certainly very Laborious, yet he'll perform that which, when finish'd, will be undoubtedly most useful and profitable. For hence, every Man may, as out of a common Fountain, draw what is convenient and serviceable for his own private use. For as to them that have a desire to imploy themselves in tumbling and turning over so many Authors; first such cannot easily get so many Books together as are necessary for their use; and then again by reason of the differing Relations and multitude of Authors, they can scarcely understand the Matters related.
But one General History, in one intire Tract, as it may be quickly and readily perus'd, so the understanding of the subject matter, with far more ease goes along with the Reading. Yea, this sort of History excels all others, as far as the Whole is more useful than the Part; as the intire thing is more desirable than that which is divided; and that which fixes the exact Periods of Time, more than that which leaves the Time uncertain and unknown, when things related were done.
Perceiving therefore that such a Work would be of mighty use and advantage; but that it would require both a long Time, and a great deal of Labour and Pains, we spent Thirty Years time in the Composing of it; and for that purpose travell'd through a great part of Asia and Europe, with many Hazards and Difficulties, that we our selves might be Eye-Witnesses of most of the Parts and Places that were necessary for the carrying on of our Design in this Work. For through the Ignorance of Places, not only common Writers, but even those who are reputed the most Eminent, have committed many Errors and Mistakes. The chief cause, and that which most helpt forward the Design, (which, though thought impossible, is now fully compleated and perfected) was the strong and constant desire we had of Composing such a Work. Many Helps likewise were afforded to us at Rome, for the Carrying on of what we had undertaken in this Kind. For that noble City, whose Power is stretcht out as far as to the utmost Corners of the Earth (being that we had been there a long time an Inhabitant) furnished us with many things ready at hand for our purpose. For being born in Agyrus in Sicily, and having in a great measure learnt the Roman Language, by means of the frequent Commerce of Romans in that Island, I diligently collected out of their Ancient Records, what I found concerning the memorable Actions of this Empire.
We have begun our History with the Mythologies handed down to us, as well those of the Grecians, as of the Barbarians, seriously weighing and considering, as far as we were able, what every one of them have related of things done in Ancient Times. Having now finish'd what was design'd, though not yet expos'd to publick view, before that be done, we shall declare something briefly concerning the whole Work.
Our First Six Books, comprehend the Affairs and Mythologies of the Ages before the Trojan War, of which the Three First, contain the Barbarian, and the next following almost all the Grecian Antiquities. In the Eleven next after these, we have given an Account of what has been done in every Place from the Time of the Trojan War, till the Death of Alexander. In the Three and Twenty Books following, we have set forth all other Things and Affairs, till the beginning of the War the Romans made upon the Galls; at which time Julius Caesar the Emperor (who upon the Account of his great Atchievements, was surnam'd Divus) having subdu'd the Warlike Nations of the Galls, inlarg'd the Roman Empire, as far as to the British Isles; whose First Acts fall in with the First Year of the Hundred and Eightieth Olympiad, when Herodes was chief Magistrate at Athens. But as to the Limitation of Times contain'd in this Work, we have not bound those things that happen'd before the Trojan War, within any certain Limits; because we could not find any Foundation whereon to rely with any Certainty.
According to Appollodorus, we have accounted Fourscore Years from the Trojan War, to the Return of Heraclides: From thence to the First Olympiad, Three Hundred and Twenty Eight Years, computing the Times from the Lacedemonian Kings. From the First Olympiad, to the beginning of the Gallick War (where our History ends) are Seven Hundred and Thirty Years: So that our whole Work (comprehended in Forty Books) is an History which takes in the Affairs of Eleven Hundred Thirty Eight Years, besides those Times that preceded the Trojan War.
We have been the more careful to premise these things, that the Reader might have the clearer Prospect into the nature of the whole Tract; and that those who commonly take upon them to polish and amend Books, may be at least prevail'd with not to corrupt other Mens Works. Whatever therefore through the whole History is writ well, let no Man envy: What Slips there are (through Ignorance) they that are more knowing, are very free to amend.
And now having finish'd what we thought fit to premise, we shall endeavour actually to perform what we before promis'd, as to the Writing of the History.