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[Oliver Goldsmith] on the Complete History
110 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
of instruction, are rather attracted by the lively, florid stile of a Florus, than the more
substantial disquisitions of a Polybius. With such Readers, every step an Historian takes
towards determining the weight of evidence, or the degrees of credibility, is an
excursion into the regions of dulness; but while the Writer proceeds in his narrative,
without reflection, they continue to read without reflecting: and his history enlightens
then just as much as a romance would have done: for they are equally unconcerned
about truth in either.
Truth should be the main object of the Historian’s pursuit; Elegance is its only
ornament: if, therefore, we see a Writer of this class plume himself upon his excelling
in the last, and at the same time slighting the evidences that ought to ascertain and
support the first, suspicion will naturally arise, and the Author’s credit will sink in
With respect to the History now before us, the Compiler does not pretend to have
discovered any hidden records, or authentic materials, that have escaped the notice of
former Writers; or to have thrown such lights upon contested events, or disputed
characters, as may serve to rectify any mistaken opinions mankind may have
entertained, with respect to either. His care is rather to disburthen former Histories of
those tedious vouchers, and proofs of authenticity, which, in his opinion, only serve to
swell the page, and exercise the Reader’s patience. He seldom quotes authorities in
support of his representations; and if he now and then condescends to cite the
testimony of former Writers, he never points to the page, but leaves the sceptical
Reader to supply any defect of this kind, by an exertion of that industry which the
Author disdains: and thus, on the veracity of the Relator are we to rest our conviction,
and accept his own word for it, that he has no intention to deceive or mislead us.
That this Author, however, has no such design, may be fairly presumed from his
declining all attempts to bias us by any remarks of his own. Determined to avoid all
useless disquisition, as his plan professes, he steers wide indeed of the danger, and avoids
all disquisition as useless. A brief recital of facts is chiefly what the public is to expect from
this performance. But, with submission, we think the ingenious Author might have
afforded us something more. He has undoubted ability; and he well knows, that a
moderate interspersion of manly and sensible observations, must have greatly enlivened
his work, and would hardly have been deemed superfluous by such Readers as have any
turn for reflection.
With respect to the stile of this Historian, it is, in general clear, nervous, and
flowing; and we think it impossible for a Reader of taste not to be pleased with the
perspicuity, and elegance of his manner. But what he seems principally to value himself
upon, and what his Patronizers chiefly mention in praise of this performance, are the
characters he has summed up, at the close of every reign. Here, however, we cannot
entirely fall in with the ingenious Doctor’s admirers:—But we forbear to enlarge, and
shall therefore proceed to enable our Readers, in some measure, to judge for
themselves, by a few specimens taken from such parts of the History as, we apprehend,
the Author’s friends will think we do him no injustice in selecting.
TOBIAS SMOLLETT 111
[quotes from the History: characters of James I, Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, Charles
We shall conclude with the following summary of the qualifications required in an
historian. His learning, says Bayle, should be greater than his genius, and his judgment
stronger than his imagination. In private life, he should have the character of being free
from Party, and his former writings ought always to have shewn the sincerest
attachment to truth. I ask several questions, says the same Author, who the Historian
is? of what country? of what principles? for it is impossible but that his private opinions
will almost involuntarily work themselves into his public performances. His stile also
should be clear, elegant, and nervous. And lastly, to give him a just boldness of
sentiment and expression, he should have a consciousness of these his superior abilities.
—As to the first requisites, how far our Author is possessed of them, his former
productions will abundantly demonstrate; but in the last he seems to have fallen short of
none of his predecessors.
Dr John Shebbeare on Smollett
From The Occasional Critic, or the Decrees of the Scotch Tribunal in the Critical
Review Rejudged: etc., 1757, pp. 9 ff. Shebbeare (1709–88) wrote this
pamphlet in response to a review in the Critical Review of his Third Letter to
the People of England, and returned to the attack in An Appendix to the
Occasional Critic of December 1757. Shebbeare, it is believed, advised Lady
Vane on the writing of her Memoirs, and was caricatured by Smollett in the
figure of Ferret in Smollett’s Sir Launcelot Greaves. A Westcountryman of
dubious medical qualifications, Shebbeare was a hack political writer and
author of two novels, The Marriage Act (1754) and Lydia (1755).
Then, like a true Champion, the Knight of La Mancha, you arrive to rescue the Charms
of Literature from the avaritious Hands of the hireling Necromancers in the Monthly
Review. What an Advantage it is in a Critic to have transcribed Don Quixote, tho’ it
may prove a great Loss to the Bookseller who hired him.
From a footnote to p. 61:
A Millar,1 soliciting Subscriptions to the Editor of Don Quixote, when it was objected
by one of his own Countrymen; that the Translator did not understand Spanish, assured
him that the Author had been full six Weeks to study that Language amongst the native
Spaniards, at Brussels.
From p. 63, on The Regicide:
A Tragedy, written by one of the Gentleman Annalists, never played, sometime
published, totally forgotten, which, before its being printed by Subscription, raised a
great Clamor against the Patentees, who rejected it, and on being published, justified
From p. 127:
…Your hero, whose Wit seems to consist in placing two words beginning with the
same letter, to succeed each other, as Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Ferdinand Fathom,
Pillory Politician. Nothing so easily imitated, and though I am ashamed of the Thing, lest
you should imagine me deficient in that way of being witty, I will show you with what
Facility it is to be obtained. For Example, Codsheaded Critics, asinine Annalists, rascally
Reviewers, scabby Scotchmen, all which are as applicable to you, as Pillory Politician is to the
author of The Fourth Letter.
1 One of the publishers of Smollett’s Don Quixote.
[Owen Ruffhead], review of Smollett’s Complete
History, vol. IV
From The Monthly Review, April 1758, xviii, 289–305. The concluding part
of the review complains of Smollett’s Toryism, and argues that his virtues
are those of the novelist, rather than those of the ‘accurate historian.’
As many able pens have been employed in expatiating on the use of History, and
ascertaining the requisite qualifications of an Historian, it will be needless to enlarge on
those general heads, which have been already so amply discussed.
But, though the general accomplishments of an Historian have been frequently
enumerated and explained, yet we are of opinion, that some particular requisites have
not been sufficiently recommended and enforced. Learning, knowledge, discernment,
solidity, and discretion, are previous endowments without which no man should
assume the office of an Historical Writer. But to these constituent qualifications he
should unite the requisite duties of an Historian, and exercise his talents with care,
accuracy, and impartiality.
Of our later Historians some have been little better than laborious Compilers; others
no more than random Essayists. A History which is only a circumstantial narrative of
facts, without reflections upon them, may be only regardable as a file of Newspapers:
and one that abounds with reflections, without due attention to facts, differs little from
a romance or a novel.
An Historian should be careful to omit no incident of moment. Yet he ought not,
therefore, to content himself with a meer relation of events; but wherever they appear
to be generally interesting, he should offer his observations upon them, apply his
discernment to trace the causes which produced them, and exhibit the consequences
which flowed from them.
He should particularly exert this faculty in his account of any remarkable alteration
in the laws of the country he treats of. It behoves him to state what the law was at the
time of the change, and to shew the effects produced by the variation. He ought not,
however, to indulge a fondness for expatiating too far, lest it should insensibly
withdraw his mind from a due attention to the chain of historical facts. It is necessary,
therefore, that his judgment should be greater than his imagination; otherwise he will
THE CRITICAL HERITAGE 115
be tempted to employ his powers in the vain glow of colouring, and will be more
studious to dazzle the imagination with a gaudy display of splendid sentiments, and
pompous phraseology, than to engage the understanding by just reasoning, and solid
reflections. He ought to remember, that in History, Ornament should be but a secondary
consideration; and that the first and principal requisite, is Utility.
A History should not be calculated, like a novel, only to entertain us in the perusal,
and then to be thrown aside, or consigned to oblivion; but ought rather to be a faithful
repository of interesting events, to be occasionally referred to for the purposes of
information and instruction. An Historian, therefore, should be more solicitous to say
what is just and authentic, than what is brilliant and striking.
He ought, above all things, to avoid haste. Hurry is the worst excuse which any
Writer can make to atone for his defects: but in an Historian it is more especially
inexcusable. A History is not to be wrote Starts pede in uno: and if we should see one
start up within a compass of time too short for a diligent Collator even to compare the
various authorities referred to, we may then conclude that the Writer has taken his
matter upon credit.
It should be the first office of an Historian, attentively to read the several authorities
from whence he intends to extract his materials. But yet it is not sufficient that he
produces authority for what he advances; he should exert his sagacity to determine the
degree of credibility due to the Writers from whom he draws his extract: he should
make himself acquainted with their country, their principles, and the age they lived in.
The knowledge of these particulars, may enable him to reconcile their contradictory
evidence, and to develop truth from the clouds of national and party prejudice.
Having formed his judgment of the authenticity of their several relations, his next
care should be accurately to digest and arrange the various matter he has collected. For
want of this caution, Histories are frequently rendered obscure: for it often happens, that
different Writers relate the same circumstances under different periods of time; by
which means the Compiler, who turns from one to the other, without comparing them
together, and digesting his extracts, is frequently led into perplexing obscurities, idle
repetitions, and inexcusable anachronisms.
An Historian, above all other Writers, should think for himself. He should, as far as
possible, banish from his mind all prejudices imbibed by education, or received from
reading or discourse. It is not sufficient that he is of no party; he should write as if he
was of no country. He ought to be careful to draw no inferences but what are
warranted by the premises he has related; and should ground no conclusuons on the
foundation of public report.
It has been an usual failing in many Historians to be more particularly minute and
circumstantial in their detail of military, than of civil transaction. They will acquaint us
how an army was marshalled, and relate every particular evolution, as if their History
was calculated only for the perusal of Generals, and Drill-Serjeants; But in their
accounts of civil proceeding, they frequently hasten to the event, without taking notice
of any intermediate circumstances. They think it sufficient to tell us, that such or such a
116 TOBIAS SMOLLETT
treaty was made, without specifying any of the material articles it contained, shewing
how it contributed to strengthen or diminish the interest of the contracting Parties, or
making any mention of the intrigues which were used to promote or impede the
conclusion of it. This is an inexcusable error: for the civil concerns of past times, are
more generally interesting than the military operations.
In the same manner they often hurry over important trials, and debates, contenting
themselves with barely stating the decision; which can give little satisfaction to
reflecting Readers, who will be curious to learn the reasons and arguments that were
offered to warrant the determination. Some, who state the arguments, often represent
them partially, and repeat those only which were urged on one side of the question: which
manifestly shews, that they are guided by the blind zeal of prejudice, instead of being
governed by the sincere love of truth.
The portraying of Characters, is a task on which Historians generally lavish all their
powers. Common Readers are more curious about persons, than things; and Writers who
are more solicitous to gain the applause of the multitude, than the approbation of the
judicious, endeavour to adapt their writings to the standard of popular taste. In
describing characters, they give way to an implicit faith, and unbounded fancy. They do
not scruple to sum up every quality, which idle report, partial attachment, or
prejudiced malice, has imputed to the personage they are delineating; which they
seldom fail to embellish with all the decorations that their own imagination can supply.
They, generally fall into a fondness for Antithesis, and, in the end, make their general
account give the lie to the particulars they have related in the course of their History.
Their motley characters may, with little alteration, be adapted to any persons
whatsoever; or be distributed into lots, and drawn at random. But a careful and
judicious Historian will make no inferences, nor confer any qualities, which are not
warranted by the particular circumstances premised. He will draw from the original
before him, and not from his own imagination.
In short, Truth should be the object of the Historian’s enquiry; Discernment should
guide his researches; Judgment warrant his conclusion; Candour direct his reflections;
and Elegance of Stile adorn his composition.
Let us now examine how far the Historian before us is endowed with the requisite
qualifications, and with what degree of diligence he has performed the duties
incumbent upon him. If he shall appear to have been deficient, his defects will be the
more unpardonable, as he seems to be master of natural abilities, which, with a proper
share of application, would have enabled him to have acquited himself with credit: and
however men may pride themselves upon their genius, there is certainly more merit in
a single grain of acquired knowledge, than in the largest portion of native talents. For the
latter, we are indebted to nature, but what we gain by our industry, we may challenge
as our own.
In a former Review, we have given an account of the three preceding volumes of this
work; which contained little more than a brief narrative of facts, in which the Author
affected to avoid all disquisitions as useless. In the volume before us, however, he appears
THE CRITICAL HERITAGE 117
to have altered his mind, and is very liberal of his observations, which makes it
necessary for us to be more particular in our examination.
This fourth volume opens with an enumeration of omissionsa at the time of the
revolution, in which, according to his practice throughout, he confounds his own
reflections with those he has adopted from authority. ‘The maxim,’ he says, ‘of
hereditary indefeasible right, was at length renounced by a free Parliament.’ From this
expression we are led to conclude, that this was the first instance of any public
renunciation of that doctrine; but, if we are not mistaken, this maxim, however
avowed by a few slavish individuals, was never adopted by a free Parliament; on the
contrary, it has always been opposed by Parliament, and has been frequently renounced
in the most solemn manner. If we recur to the form of the Coronation of King John,
and many of our former Kings, we shall there find express stipulations against the claim
of Hereditary Right.b
In his account of the trials of Sir John Friend and Sir William Perkins, for treason, in
conspiring against King William’s life, this Writer does not appear to have observed the
strictest impartiality. He says, that ‘Lord-chief-justice Holt declared, that although a
bare conspiracy or design to levy war, was not treason within the statute of Edward III.
yet, if the design or conspiracy be to kill, or depose, or imprison the King, by the means
of levying war, then the consultation and conspiracy to levy war becomes high-treason,
though no war be actually levied.’ The same inference, our Historian observes, might have
been drawn against the authors and instruments of the Revolution.
In his reflections of these trials, which he has borrowed, almost verbatim, from Mr
Ralph, he has copied that Writer’s severe animadversions on Lord-chief-justice Holt,
without doing the same previous justice to his character: and he has added, that the
judge acted as Counsel for the Crown. Yet notwithstanding these harsh imputations, that
worthy Judge does not appear to have exceeded, or violated, the duty of his office. As
to his Declaration, it was consonant with the opinion of able Judges, his predecessors.
History will inform us, that a consultation to levy war, with intent to kill, depose, or
imprison the King, had been deemed high treason long before his time; and that
delinquents had been found guilty of high-treasion, within the Act of Parliament, for
words which indicated their treasonable intent.
It does not follow, as our Historian asserts, after Mr Ralph, that—, the same
inference might have been drawn against the ‘authors and instruments of the
Revolution.’ The case at the Revolution was widely different. The King had stretched
the Prerogative, violated his coronation-oath, and openly invaded the rights of his
subjects. Under these circumstances, it was lawful to resist him as a tyrant; but no such
pretences could be urged in favour of the conspirators against King William. There is
undoubtedly a very material difference between a Rebellion and a Civil War. The first
is properly where subjects take up arms against lawful Governors, lawfully governing:
but where a Prince violates the established laws of the kingdom, and persists in his
violation, then resistance, in vindication of the Liberties of the nation, cannot be called
118 TOBIAS SMOLLETT
Rebellion: and, as Sydney justly observes, there can be no such thing in the world as the
Rebellion of a Nation against its own Magistrates.
Had our Historian shewn himself as forward to praise as ready to censure, he might
have found a theme for panegyric, in the conduct of Chief-Justice Holt, in regard to the
contested election for Ailesbury. But though he is so ready to reflect on the ChiefJustice’s opinion in the former instance, yet he takes no notice of his spirited
declaration in the case of Ashby and White.
In his account of Sir John Fen wick’s case, he gives an abstract of all the arguments of
the Counsel in behalf of the prisoner, and then contents himself with saying—Their
arguments were answered by the King’s Counsel.’ But he makes no mention whatever,
of the purport of those arguments. His state of the facts likewise is somewhat
imperfect. He has, in particular, omitted the contents of the letter which Sir John Fenwick
wrote to his Lady; without which it is difficult to have a clear comprehension of the
It must be observed, likewise, that his reflections, in many instances, are highly
exceptionable. Speaking of the proposals of peace which Lewis the XlVth sent to the
Allies, he makes the following observation on their demands.
Their demands were so insolent, that Lewis would not have suffered them to be
mentioned in his hearing had he not been reduced to the last degree of distress.
One can hardly read them without feeling a sentiment of compassion for that
Monarch, who had once given law to Europe, and been so long accustomed to
victory and conquest. Notwithstanding the discouraging dispatches he had
received from the President Rouillé, after his first conferences with the
Deputies, he could not believe that the Dutch would be so blind to their own
interest, as to reject the advantages in commerce, and the barrier which he had
offered. He could not conceive, that they would chuse to bear the burthen of
excessive taxes, in prosecuting a war, the events of which would always be
uncertain, rather than enjoy the blessings of peace, security, and advantageous
commerce: he flattered himself, that the allies would not so far deviate from
their proposed aim of establishing a balance of power, as to throw such an
enormous weight into the scale of the House of Austria, which cherished all the
dangerous ambition and arbitrary principles, without the liberality and sentiment
peculiar to the House of Bourbon.
What! did Lewis the XlVth deserve compassion because he had once given law to
Europe, and been accustomed to victory and conquest? Is a tyrant entitled to
compassion, because he is spoiled of the fruits of successful tyranny? Did not Lewis XIV.
engage in war from the motives of rapacious pride, and the instatiate thirst of arbitrary
sway? Had he a right to give law to Europe? and does he deserve pity, because he was
humbled to a state of incapacity, which prevented him from plundering his neighbours,
and extending an illegal despotism over the European Powers? A distressed Prince, is
THE CRITICAL HERITAGE 119
no more an object of pity than an afflicted Peasant. It is not the person who suffers, but
the cause of his suffering, which justifies our compassion. What is there in the distresses
of a King to move our pity, unless the man deserves it? A king, who becomes a Tyrant,
sinks in worth beneath the lowest of his subjects: and it would be a weakness to
commiserate the calamity he merits—Where has this Historian discovered the liberality
and sentiment peculiar to the house of Bourbon? We are not fond of national
reflections, but we cannot forbear remarking, that the perfidy and chicanery which the
Bourbons have displayed, in all their political measures, bear no very favourable
testimony of their liberality or sentiment.
His reflections on the Duke of Ormond are not less liable to objection. ‘A man of
candor,’ he says, ‘cannot, without an emotion of grief and indignation, reflect upon the
ruin of the noble family of Ormond, in the person of a brave, generous, and humane
Nobleman; to whom no crime was imputed, but that of having obeyed the commands
of his Sovereign.’ And he afterwards takes notice, that ‘the Duke and Lord Bolingbroke,
who had retired to France, finding themselves condemned unheard, and attainted,
engaged in the service of the Chevalier, and corresponded with the Tories in England.’
But the Duke of Ormond’s fate was undoubtedly merited. His conduct at the head of
the army was certainly base and scandalous; and even the commands of the Sovereign
cannot justify a General, in acting to the prejudice or dishonour of his country. Besides,
to say, ‘that no crime was imputed to him, but that of having obeyed the commands of
his Sovereign;’ is neither talking like an historian or a politician. It is well known, that
he was one of the principal leaders of that faction, which gave such pernicious council
to their Sovereign, and then sought to shelter themselves under the sanction of those
very commands, which they in fact had dictated themselves. If Sovereign commands
were sufficient to authorize the servants of the Crown in the execution of orders,
however illegal, then the crown would in fact be arbitrary, and, as the King can do no
wrong, no one would remain answerable for the abuse of the executive power. Even
Sovereign orders could not justify the Duke of Ormond in his secret, we may say,
traiterous correspondence with the French General. As to his being condemned
unheard, it is a ridiculous observation, with regard to a delinquent, who betakes himself
to flight, and does not stay to make his Defence.—And how it was agreeable to the
character of a brave, generous, and humane Nobleman, to enter into the service of the
Chevalier, and foment a horrid rebellion in his native land, out of personal pique to the
Ministry, we own ourselves at a loss to determine.
The same impropriety appears in his remarks on the opposition to sir Robert
Walpole. ‘It must be acknowledged,’ says he, ‘they were by this time irritated into
such personal animosity against the Minister, that they resolved to oppose all his
measures, whether they might or might not be necessary for the safety and advantage of the
kingdom. Nor, indeed, were they altogether blameable for acting on this maxim, if their
sole aim was to remove from the confidence and councils of their Sovereign, a man
whose conduct they thought prejudicial to the interest and liberty of their country.
120 TOBIAS SMOLLETT
Amazing! Were they not blameable for opposing the Minister in all his measures,
even in such as might be necessary for the safety of the kingdom? Could any motive,
whatever, justify such treason against their country? Besides, was it a probable method
to remove the Minister from the confidence of his Sovereign, to oppose all his
measures, right or wrong? Would not such an unjust opposition rather increase that
confidence which they laboured to destroy? Was it not the way to convince their
Sovereign and the world, that they acted from personal animosity; and that their dislike
was to the Minister, and not to his measures? It would be wasting time to take further
notice of such inconsiderate reflections.
Our Author has taken great pains to place the peace of Utrecht in a favourable light;
and has retailed all the exploded arguments used in vindication of that treaty; without
stating, as an Historian ought to have done, what was urged in opposition to it. He
makes the very worst apology for the conduct of the Ministry, when he says, ‘that they
saw no hope of safety, except in renouncing their principles, and submitting to their
adversaries, or else in taking such measures as would hasten the pacification; and with
which view they set on foot a private negotiation with Lewis.’ But whatever gloss partycolouring may put on this treaty, the advantages obtained by it were not only
inadequate to what we might reasonably have expected and demanded, and greatly
inferior to the terms which Lewis had before humbly offered, nay almost implored us
to accept, —but the manner of concluding it was dishonourable to the nation. When a
confederacy is formed against a common enemy, no party in it ought to treat privately,
or separately. Indeed any one is at liberty to detach himself, if the rest are so obstinate
as to refuse reasonable propositions; but he should first endeavour to persuade them to
an acceptance of the terms offered, and give them notice, that in case of their refusal,
he will conclude a separate peace. This duty is obligatory, even where the confederate
powers have not fixed on any particular points to be gained by the war. But this
obligation is much stronger where they have stipulated not to lay down their arms till
they have obtained such and such particular ends. In this case, no one is at liberty to
detach himself, till those proposed advantages are acquired. If in the course of the war,
the acquisition of them should be thought: impracticable, yet not one, but the whole
confederate body must judge of the impracticability. The allies in the war of 1712, agreed
not to suffer Spain and the Indies to remain in the House of Bourbon. This was the
express end of the war; and till that end was accomplished, or given up by the Confederates
as impracticable, no one in particular had a right to conclude a separate peace. Besides
it was an express article in the treaty, ‘that no party should treat of peace, truce, &c.
but jointly with the rest.’
It in vain for our Historian to adopt the stale pretence made use of by the advocates
of this peace—‘that the liberties of Europe would be exposed to much greater danger
from an actual union of the Imperial and Spanish crowns in one head of the House of
Austria, than from a bare possibility of Spain’s being united with France, in one branch
of the House of Bourbon.’ This might have been a good argument against our entering