Preaching of Sermons is Speaking to a few of Mankind: Printing of Books is Talking to the whole World. The Parson Prescribes himself, and addresses to the particular Auditory with the Appellation of My Brethren; but he that Prints a Book, ought to Preface it with a Noverint Universi, Know all Men by these Presents.
The proper Inference drawn from this remarkable Observation, is, That tho’ he that Preaches from the Pulpit ought to be careful of his Words, that nothing pass from him but with an especial Sanction of Truth; yet he that Prints and Publishes to all the World, has a tenfold Obligation.
The Sermon is a Sound of Words spoken to the Ear, and prepar’d only for present Meditation, and extends no farther than the strength of Memory can convey it; a Book Printed is a Record; remaining in every Man’s Possession, always ready to renew its Acquaintance with his Memory, and always ready to be produc’d as an Authority or Voucher to any Reports he makes out of it, and conveys its Contents for Ages to come, to the Eternity of mortal Time, when the Author is forgotten in his Grave.
If a Sermon be ill grounded, if the Preacher imposes upon us, he trespasses on a few; but if a Book Printed obtrudes a Falshood, if a Man tells a Lye in Print, he abuses Mankind, and imposes upon the whole World, he causes our Children to tell Lyes after us, and their Children after them, to the End of the World.
This Observation I thought good to make by way of Preface, to let the World know, that when I go about a Work in which I must tell a great many Stories, which may in their own nature seem incredible, and in which I must expect a great part of Mankind will question the Sincerity of the Relator; I did not do it without a particular sence upon me of the proper Duty of an Historian, and the abundant Duty laid on him to be very wary what he conveys to Posterity.
I cannot be so ignorant of my own Intentions, as not to know, that in many Cases I shall act the Divine, and draw necessary practical Inferences from the extraordinary Remarkables of this Book, and some Digressions which I hope may not be altogether useless in this Case.
And while I pretend to a thing so solemn, I cannot but premise I should stand convicted of a double Imposture, to forge a Story, and then preach Repentance to the Reader from a Crime greater than that I would have him repent of: endeavouring by a Lye to correct the Reader’s Vices, and sin against Truth to bring the Reader off from sinning against Sence.
Upon this score, tho’ the Undertaking be very difficult among such an infinite variety of Circumstances, to keep, exactly within the bounds of Truth; yet I have this positive Assurance with me, that in all the subsequent Relation, if the least Mistake happen, it shall not be mine.
If I judge right, ‘Tis the Duty of an Historian to set every thing in its own Light, and to convey matter of fact upon its legitimate Authority, and no other: I mean thus, (for I wou’d be as explicit as I can) That where a Story is vouch’d to him with sufficient Authority, he ought to give the World the Special Testimonial of its proper Voucher, or else he is not just to the Story: and where it comes without such sufficient Authority, he ought to say so; otherwise he is not just to himself. In the first Case he injures the History, by leaving it doubtful where it might be confirm’d past all manner of question; in the last he injures his own Reputation, by taking upon himself the Risque, in case it proves a Mistake, of having the World charge him with a Forgery.
And indeed, I cannot but own ‘tis just, that if I tell a Story in Print for a Truth which proves otherwise, unless I, at the same time, give proper Caution to the Reader, by owning the Uncertainty of my Knowledge in the matter of fact, ‘tis I impose upon the World: my Relater is innocent, and the Lye is my own.
I make all these preliminary Observations, partly to inform the Reader, that I have not undertaken this Work without the serious Consideration of what I owe to Truth, and to Posterity; nor without a Sence of the extraordinary Variety and Novelty of the Relation.
I am sensible, that the want of this Caution is the Foundation of that great Misfortune we have in matters of ancient History; in which the Impudence, the Ribaldry, the empty Flourishes, the little Regard to Truth, and the Fondness of telling a strange Story, has dwindled a great many valuable Pieces of ancient History into meer Romance.
How are the Lives of some of our most famous Men, nay the Actions of whole Ages, drowned in Fable? Not that there wanted Pen-men to write, but that their Writings were continually mixt with such Rhodomontades of the Authors that Posterity rejected them as fabulous.
From hence it comes to pass that Matters of Fact are handed down to Posterity with so little Certainty, that nothing is to be depended upon; from hence the uncertain Account of Things and Actions in the remoter Ages of the World, the confounding the Genealogies as well as Atchievements of Belus, Nimrod, and Nimrus, and their Successors, the Histories and Originals of Saturn, Jupiter, and the rest of the Celestial Rabble, who Mankind would have been asham’d to have call’d Gods, had they had the true Account of their dissolute, exorbitant, and inhumane Lives.