« ForrigeFortsett »
T is ufual to treat law, manners, and government, as if they had no connection with hiftory, or with each other. Law and manners are commonly understood to be nothing more than collections of ordinances and matters of fact; and government is too often a foundation for mere fpeculation and metaphyfical refinements. Yet law is only a science, when oblerved in its spirit and history; government cannot be comprehended but by attending to the minute fteps of its rife and progreffion; and the fyftems of manners, which characterise man in all the periods of fociety which pass from rudeness to civility, cannot be difplayed without the difcrimination of these different fituations. It is in the records of hiftory, in the fcene of real life, not in the conceits and the abftractions of fancy and philofophy, that human nature is to be ftudied.
But, while it is in the hiftorical manner that laws, cuftoms, and government, are to be inquired into, it is obvious, that their dependence and connection are close and intimate. They all tend to the fame point, and to the illuftration of one another. It is from the confideration of them all, and in their union, that we are to explain the complicated forms of civil fociety, and the wisdom and accident which mingle in human affairs.
After this method, I have endeavoured to investigate my fubject. The topics I canvafs in the following sheets, are various, and conftitute a difficult and important branch of my undertaking. If I am fo fortunate as to obtain the fanction of the public approbation, I fhall proceed to fill up the picture I have begun, and confider, in future publications, civil jurisdiction, nobility, conftitutional law, and cultivated manners.
The foundations of a work like this I have attempted, muft be laws of barbarous ages, antient records, and charters. Thefe I could not incorporate, with propriety, in my narrative. This inftructive, but taftelefs erudition, did not accord with the tenor of a portion of my performance, which I wished to addrefs to men of elegance, as well as to the learned. It confifted, however, with the fimpler and the colder style of differtation. My proofs, accordingly, appear by themselves; and, in confequence of this arrangement, I might engage in incidental difcuffions; I might catch many rays of light that faintly glimmer in obfcure times; and, I might defend the novelty of my opinions, when I ventured to oppofe eftablished tenets, and authors of reputation.
Though I have employed much thought and affiduity to give a value to these papers, yet I communicate them to the public with the greatest diffidence. My materials were buried in the midst of rubbish, were detached, and unequal. I had to dig them
them up anxiously, and with patience; and, when discovered and collected, it was ftill more difficult to digeft and to fashion them. I had to ftruggle with the darkness and imperfection of time and of barbarity. And, from the most able hiftorians of our own and foreign nations, who might naturally be expected to be intelligent guides for the paths I have chofen, I could derive no advantage. They generally prefer what is brilliant to what is useful; and they neglect all difquifitions into laws and into manners, that they may describe and embellish the politics of princes, and the fortunes of nations, the fplendid qualities of eminent men, and the luftre of heroic action.
EDINBURGH, January 1.77 8.