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heavy rain falling from a cloud that suddenly bursts and discharges its waters. This noise seems to be the effect of a vibration of the air, which is agitated in several different directions. The birds are then observed to dart in their flight; neither their tails nor their wings serve them any longer as oars and helms to swim in the fluid of the skies; they dash themselves against the walls, the trees, and the rocks, whether it be that this vertigo of nature dazzles and confuses them, or that the vapours of the earth take away their strength and power to command their movements.
"To this tumult in the air is added the rumbling of the earth, whose cavities and deep recesses re-echo to each other's noises. The dogs answer these previous tokens of a general disorder of nature, by howling in an extraor dinary manner. The animals stop, and, by a natural instinct, hold out their legs that they may not fall. Upon these indications the in habitants instantly run out of their houses, with terror impressed upon their countenances, and fly to search in the inclosures of public places, or in the fields, an asylum from the fall of the roofs. The cries of children, the lamentations
of women, the sudden darkness of an unexpected night; every thing combines to aggravate the too real evils of a dire calamity, which subverts every thing by the excruciating tortures of the imagination, which is distressed and confounded, and loses, in the contemplation of this disorder, the thought and courage to remedy it."
The imagination will, however, be most powerfully assisted by the perusal of fine descriptions in the best authors, such as the return of Agrippina in Tacitus; that of the defeat of the Romans by the Samnites; and the return of the consuls, in the 9th book of Livy ; that of the temple of Daphne, in the 23d chapter of Gibbon; and of the Earthquake, in the beginning of the 26th chapter of the same author, which is more ornamented, but less general, than that which I have inserted above.
History, from the importance of the subject, the rise, fate, and fall of nations, and from its utility in affording the best instruction in politics, and the most interesting views of human nature, holds the first rank among narrative compositions. Voyages and travels may be considered as the next in consequence; and to
those fictitious narratives, composed chiefly for entertainment, under the names of Romances and Novels, may be assigned the lowest place. It must, however, be the object of my next letters to treat of these distinctly, as I should greatly exceed my limits, or do injustice to the subject, should I endeavour to compress them into this.
History-Antient Historians-Scripture History-Herodotus-Thucidydes-Xenophon-Polybius-Sallust-Livy-Tacitus-Comnena-De Thou-Davila-Modern History -Buchanan-Clarendon-Rapin-Lyttleton
MY DEAR JOHN,
HISTORY may be classed under two general divisions, the history of nations and of individuals; the latter has been termed biography. The history of nations, or public history, will again admit of certain subdivisions, viz. history, properly so called, and chronicles, annals and memoirs.
The first histories of all nations, I have no doubt, were originally in verse; and those early histories which are now extant, even in prose, bear in some measure the characters of poetry. The scripture histories, though brief, are almost poetical. Whether they were originally
composed in metre or not, our ignorance of the Hebrew measures renders us incompetent to decide. The older histories of other nations have all somewhat of a dramatic complexion, and the fictitious speeches which are ascribed to their principal character, savour more of the epic than of what I conceive should be the character of true history.
If, however, such is the origin of history, as I conceive it was, this alliance with poetry has given to it a dignity, an elevation, a life and spirit above that of a mere chronicle. Instead of a bare record of facts and dates, it is now an artificial composition; a splendid emanation of genius, when well executed, as much as an oration or an epic poem, and scarcely perhaps a less laborious effort.
You will think I shall never have done with divisions and classifications; for I must remark that public history properly so called may again be divided under two heads; 1st. Those general histories which record the transactions of a nation from its rise to its fall; and 2dly. Those histories which treat of a particular period or a particular event. Of the first class are those of Herodotus (which may indeed be