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With an imagination more vigorous, and a style more highly ornamented than Dr. Robertson's; with equal industry, and more learning, Mr. Gibbon has cultivated a long, and as it was thought, a barren tract of history, connecting the antient with the modern. I have no doubt but Montesquieu's tract, "Sur la grandeur and decadence des Romains," suggested to Mr. Gibbon this grand and arduous undertaking. Having already spoken of Mr. Gibbon, it is not necessary at present to extend very far the criticism. In this great work whatever is profound in research, brilliant in display, picturesque in description, and enchanting in diction, will be found. Yet I think in luminous arrangement he is inferior to Dr. Robertson. He frequently breaks in upon his main subject by a long dissertation or episode. The 15th and 16th chapters, independant of their pernicious tendency, are too long, and perhaps the whole of his ecclesiastical details might have been curtailed. If in his style there is any fault, it is perhaps an excess of ornament, and this occasionally produces a degree of ambiguity. But his style was character
istically his own; and we may apply to him with propriety Mr. Addison's lines on Cowley, taking wit, as it was then generally used, for genius or fancy
"Pardon great writer, that I dare to name "Th' unnumber'd beauties of thy page with blame; "Thy only fault was wit in its excess; "But wit like thine in any shape will please."
In my next letter I shall treat of that class of narratives which come under the description of annals, chronicles, memoirs, biography, &c.
Annals.-Chronicles.-Memoirs.-Biography, &c.-Froissart.-Holingshead. - Stow.Cæsar.-Princess Anna Comnena.-Alber
Dalrymple.-Nepos. -Plutarch.—Diogenes Laertius. - Suetonius. - Bayle.—Dr. Johnson.-Biographica Britannica.
MY DEAR JOHN,
ANNALS and chronicles with us have nearly the same meaning, and denote a series of facts detailed in the order of time. The one of these words is derived from the Latin annus (a year), and the other from the Greek xpovos (time). The former, however, was the more antient appellation, for Tacitus entitles the earlier portion of his incomparable history annales, and the word chronicle, I do not find to have come into use till the middle ages, or rather later; for though our translators have, with some propriety, given that appellation to two of the
books of the Scripture history, the title they bear in the original hardly warrants the translation. A journal or diary is a narrative divided into still smaller portions, and which marks the occurrences of every day.
This species of narrative demands a minute attention to the order of time, and that no event shall be either omitted or introduced out of its
regular course. This is a form of composition calculated to cramp the genius. It is too formal to admit of eloquence, and its best commendation is fidelity. This quality indeed we must necessarily require in the annalist; but the graces of style are less confidently expected from him than from the professed historian. In annals and chronicles there is also a more minute and copious detail than in a history, which is a more concentrated view of the subject. Both seem better adapted to the recording of recent events than to the relation of facts long past, and therefore less immediately interesting.
After the revival of letters, the Germans seem to have more particularly applied to the writing of annals than any other of the European nations, and many valuable, though not polished
works, are extant among them under this title. Our learned countryman, Strype, also published annals of the Reformation, which is a work of high authority, but deficient in elegance.
If we except Froissart, whom yet we may almost account an Englishman, the title of chronicles has been, I believe, almost exclusively used by English writers. Froissart's is a correct example of what a chronicle should be. We there find all the minuteness of description and detail, even to the delineation of the arms of the knights, who make the most conspicuous figure in his narrative. But though this style of composition may seem dry and tedious, he has contrived to make it interesting. All the heroes of the time, the King, the Black Prince, Sir Walter Manny, Sir Bertrand de Gueschlin, &c. &c. become our intimate acquaintances; we see all their domestic habits, we listen to their familiar conversation. In a studied his-tory we see a picture; in this particular detail we see the men: all is dramatic, and the vivacity of the scene takes off from the prolixity of the detail. Mr. Hayley's character of the writer is tolerably correct