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To promote and advance this improvement is the principal design of our present undertaking. No subject appears more interesting than that we have chosen, and none seems capable of being handled in a manner that may render it more generally useful.
The knowledge of the world, and of its inhabitants, though not the sublimest pursuit of mankind, it must be allowed, is that which most nearly interests them, and to which their abilities are best adapted. And books of Geography, which describe the situation, extent, soil, and productions of kingdoms; the genius, manners, religion, government, commerce, sciences, and arts, of all the inhabitants upon earth; promise the best assistance for attaining this knowledge.
The compendium of Geography we now offer to the Public differs in many particulars from other books on that subject. Besides exhibiting an easy, distinct, and systematic account of the theory and practice of what may be called Natural Geography, the Author has attempted to render the following performance an instructive, though compendious, detail of the general history of the world. The character of nations depends on a combination of a great many circumstances, which reciprocally affect each other. There is a nearer connection between the learning, the commerce, the government, &c. of a state, than most people seem to apprehend. In a work of this kind, which pretends to include moral, or political, as well as natural Geography, no one of these objects should pass unnoticed. The omission of any one of them would, in reality, deprive us of a branch of knowledge, not only interesting in itself, but which is absolutely necessary for enabling us to form an adequate and comprehensive notion of the subject in general. We have thought it necessary, therefore, to add a new article to this work, which comprehends the history and present state of learning in the several countries we describe, with the characters of such persons as have been most eminent in the various departments of letters and philosophy. This subject will, on a little reflection, appear altogether requisite, when we consider the powerful influence of learning upon the manners, government, and general character of nations. These objects, in.
deed, till of late, seldom found a place in geographical performances; and, even where they have been introduced, are by no means handled in an entertaining or instructive manner. Neither is this to be altogether imputed to the fault of geographical writers. The greater part of travellers, acting solely under the influence of avarice, the passion which first induced them to quit their native land, were at little pains, and were indeed ill qualified, to collect such materials as
for gratifying our curiosity, with regard to these particulars. The geographer, then, who could only employ the materials put into his hands, was not enabled to give us any important information upon such subjects. In the course of the present century, however, men have begun to travel from different motives. A thirst for knowledge, as well as for gold, has led many into distant lands. These they have explored with a philosophic attention; and, by laying open the internal springs of action, by which the inhabitants of different regions are actuated, exhibit to us a natural and striking picture of human manners, under the various stages of barbarity and refinement. Without manifest impropriety, we could not but avail ourselves of their labours, by means of which we have been enabled to give a more copious and a more perfect detail of what is called Political Geography, than has hitherto appeared.
In considering the present state of nations, few circumstances are of more importance than their mutua intercourse. This is chiefly brought about by commerce, the prime mover in the economy of modern states, and of which, therefore, we have never lost sight in the present undertaking.
We are sensible that a reader could not examine the present state of nations with much entertainment or instruction, unless he was also made acquainted with. their situation during the preceding ages, and of the various revolutions and events, by the operation of which they have assumed their present form and appearance. This constitutes the historical part of our work; a department which we have endeavoured to execute in a manner entirely new. Instead of fa
currences, no way connected with one another, or with the general plan of the whole, we have mentioned only such facts as are interesting, either in themselves, or from their relation to objects of importance. Instead of a meagre index of incoherent incidents, we have drawn up a regular and connected epitome of the history of each country;--such an epitome as may be read with equal pleasure and advantage, and which may be considered as a proper introduction to more copious accounts.
Having, through the whole of the work, mentioned the ancient names of countries, and, in treating of their particular history, sometimes carried our researches beyond the limits of modern times, we have thought it necessary, for the satisfaction of such readers as are unacquainted with classical learning, to begin our historical Introduction with the remote ages of antiquity. By inserting an account of the ancient world in a book of geography, we afford an opportunity to the reader of comparing together, not only the manners, government, and arts of different nations, as they now appear, but as they subsisted in ancient ages; which exhibiting a general map, as it were, of the history of 'mankind, renders our work more complete than any geographical treatise extant.
In the execution of our design, we have all along endeavoured to observe order and perspicuity. Elegance we have sacrificed to brevity; happy to catch the leading features which distinguish the characters of nations, and by a few strokes to hit off, though not completely to finish.
What has enabled us to comprise so many subjects within the narrow bounds of this work, is the omission of many immaterial circumstances, which are recorded in other performances of the same kind, and of all those fabulous accounts or descriptions which, to the disgrace of the human understanding, swell the works of geographers; though the falsity of them, both from their own nature, and the concurring testimony of the most enlightened and best-informed travellers and historians, has been long since detected.
As to particular parts of the work, we have been more or less diffuse, according to their importance to
us as men and as subjects of Great Britain. Our own country, in both respects, deserved the greatest share of our attention. Great Britain, though she cannot boast of a more luxuriant soil or happier climate than many other countries, has advantages of another and superior kind, which make her the delight, the envy, and the mistress of the world: these are, the equity of her laws, the freedom of her political constitution, and the moderation of her religious system. With regard to the British empire we have therefore been singularly copious.
Next to Great Britain, we have been most particular upon the other states of Europe; and always in proportion as they present us with the largest field for useful reflection. By comparing together our accounts of the European nations, the important system of practical knowledge is inculcated, and a thousand arguments will appear in favour of a mild religion, a free government, and an extended, unrestrained commerce.
Europe having occupied so large a part of our volume, Asia next claims our attention; which, however, though in some respects the most famous quarter of the world, offers, when compared to Europe, extremely little for our entertainment or instruction. In Asia, a strong attachment to ancient customs, and the weight af tyrannical power, bear down the active genius of man, and prevent that variety in manners and character which distinguishes the European nations.
In Africa, the human mind seems degraded below its natural state. To dwell long upon the manners of this country, a country so immersed in rudeness and barbarity, besides that it could afford little instruction, would be disgusting to every lover of mankind. Add to this, that the inhabitants of Africa, deprived of all arts and sciences, without which the human mind remains torpid and inactive, discover no great variety in manners or character. A gloomy sameness almost every-where prevails; and the trifling distinctions which are discovered among them seem rather to arise from an excess of brutality on the one hand, than from any perceptible approaches towards refinement on the other.
But though these quarters of the globe
district of them, however barren or savage, entirely omitted.
America, whether considered as an immense con, tinent, inhabited by an endless variety of different people, or as a country intimately connected with Europe by the ties of commerce and government, deserves very particular attention. The bold discovery and barbarous conquest of this New World, and the manners and prejudices of the original inhabitants, are objects which, together with the description of the country, deservedly occupy no small share of this performance.
in treating of such a variety of subjects, some less obvious particulars, no doubt, must escape our notice. But if our general plan be good, and the outlines and chief figures sketched with truth and judgment, the candour of the learned, we hope, will' excuse imperfections which are unavoidable in a work of this extensive kind.
We cannot, without exceeding the bounds of a Preface, insist upon the other parts of our plan. The Maps, which are executed with care, by the best-informed artists in these kingdoms, will, we hope, afford satisfaction. The science of natural geography, for want of proper encouragement from those who are alone capable of giving it, still remains in a very imperfect state; and the exact divisions and extent of countries, for want of geometrical surveys, are far from being well ascertained. This consideration has induced us to adopt the most unexceptionable of Templeman's Tables, which, if they give not the exactest account, afford at least a general idea of this subject; which is all indeed we can attain, until the geographical science arrives at greater perfection.