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An History of Birmingham (1783)   By: (1723-1815)

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A preface rather induces a man to speak of himself, which is deemed the worst subject upon which he can speak. In history we become acquainted with things, but in a preface with the author; and, for a man to treat of himself, may be the most difficult talk of the two: for in history, facts are produced ready to the hand of the historian, which give birth to thought, and it is easy to cloath that thought in words. But in a preface, an author is obliged to forge from the brain, where he is sometimes known to forge without fire. In one, he only reduces a substance into form; but in the other, he must create that substance.

As I am not an author by profession, it is no wonder if I am unacquainted with the modes of authorship; but I apprehend, the usual method of conducting the pen, is to polish up a founding title page, dignified with scraps of Latin, and then, to hammer up a work to fit it, as nearly as genius, or want of genius, will allow.

We next turn over a new leaf , and open upon a pompous dedication, which answers many laudable purposes: if a coat of arms, correctly engraven, should step first into view, we consider it a singular advantage gained over a reader, like the first blow in a combat. The dedication itself becomes a pair of stilts, which advance an author something higher.

As a horse shoe, nailed upon the threshold of a cottage, prevents the influence of the witch; so a first rate name, at the head of a dedication, is a total bar against the critic; but this great name, like a great officer, sometimes unfortunately stands at the head of wretched troops.

When an author is too heavy to swim of himself, it serves as a pair of bladders, to prevent his sinking.

It is farther productive of a solid advantage, that of a present from the patron, more valuable than that from the bookseller, which prevents his sinking under the pressure of famine.

But, being wholly unknown to the great names of literary consequence, I shall not attempt a dedication, therefore must lose the benefit of the stilt, the bladder, and the horse shoe.

Were I to enter upon a dedication, I should certainly address myself, " To the Inhabitants of Birmingham ." For to them I not only owe much, but all; and I think, among that congregated mass, there is not one person to whom I wish ill. I have the pleasure of calling many of those inhabitants Friends , and some of them share my warm affections equally with myself. Birmingham, like a compassionate nurse, not only draws our persons, but our esteem, from the place of our nativity, and fixes it upon herself: I might add, I was hungry, and she fed me ; thirsty, and she gave me drink ; a stranger, and she took me in . I approached her with reluctance, because I did not know her; I shall leave her with reluctance, because I do.

Whether it is perfectly confident in an author, to solicit the indulgence of the public, though it may stand first in his wishes, admits a doubt; for, if his productions will not bear the light, it may be said, why does he publish? but, if they will, there is no need to ask a favor; the world receives one from him. Will not a piece everlastingly be tried by its merit? Shall we esteem it the higher, because it was written at the age of thirteen? because it was the effort of a week? delivered extempore? hatched while the author stood upon one leg? or cobbled, while he cobbled a shoe? or will it be a recommendation, that it issues forth in gilt binding? The judicious world will not be deceived by the tinselled purse, but will examine whether the contents are sterling.

Will it augment the value of this history, or cover its blunders, to say, that I have never seen Oxford? That the thick fogs of penury, prevented the sun of science from beaming upon the mind? That necessity obliged me to lay down the battledore, before I was master of the letters? And that, instead of handling systems of knowledge, my hands, at the early period of seven, became callous with labour?

But, though a whole group of pretences will have no effect with the impartial eye, yet one reason pleads strongly in my favor no such thing ever appeared as An History of Birmingham ... Continue reading book >>

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