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AN HISTORICAL RETROSPECT.
BY HENRY WIKOFF,
AUTHOR OF "A VISIT TO PRINCE LOUIS NAPOLEON AT HAM,'
J. B. LIPPINCOTT & CO.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1874, by
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.
TO THE READER.
IT has often struck me that a book was wanted that would give a concise and intelligible exposition of the history of France, England, and the United States. In this country especially, men, for the most part, are too busy to ransack ponderous volumes and grope their way through misty disquisitions. Furthermore, the history of these countries is often written with so much bias that it is indispensable to read more than one to acquire an accurate knowledge of their various phases during the vicissitudes that have befallen them. I have attempted, however inadequately, to supply this desideratum. The present volume contains a condensed sketch of the countries above named; and I may venture to challenge the most rigid criticism on the score of its perfect independence and impartiality; for without these history is but a delusion and a snare.
It is not a mere chronicle of facts and dates I have aimed at, but rather such an interpretation of the events of history and the actions of men as to show the effect of one and the influence of the other. In order that the distinctive features of the fourth civilization, under which we are now living, might be the more readily discerned, I have given, with extreme brevity, a résumé of the three ancient civilizations. I lingered for a moment over the marvels of the third one, not merely because it so completely eclipsed all that preceded it, but that it has left its impress on the world even to this very day.
Whoever seeks to understand the actual condition of France, England, and the United States, must penetrate into the mysteries of their past. The best guide to a knowledge of an individual is an investigation of his antecedents. So with a nation, which, through its infancy, youth, and maturity, undergoes various transformations, according to the circumstances which have accompanied its development. "A nation," said Jean Lemoine recently, speaking of France, "a nation, especially a great nation like ours, consists of its past, of its traditions, of an accumulated heritage of laws and customs, which are a part of its being." We must go back then to the origin of a country, and follow it, however rapidly, through its career if we would appreciate its actual position. To spare the reader the bewildering mass of details that usually forms the staple of history, I have discarded all irrelevant matter, all romantic incident, and sought to fix his attention on the important links in the long chain of cause and effect that constitute the story of the world. Without aspiring to the rank of those fortunate few alluded to by the poet-" Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas”—still I entertain the hope that no one who peruses this retrospect will lay it down without a more just conception of the mysterious designs of Providence, which, after suffering mankind to endure for long centuries the deceptions and oppression of the three ancient civilizations, suddenly gave a new direction to their destiny by ordaining the advent of Christianity, the fourth civilization, which has brought in its train such amazing results.
It will be observed that this book, beginning at three thousand years before Christ, closes about the year eighteen hundred and thirty; and should its reception be at all encouraging, I propose to follow it up with one or more volumes, depicting the events of my own time, and the men who have figured in them.