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The best excuse which can be made for the publication of a work such as that which is now offered to the world, is the plain statement of the reasons which originally led to its composition, and of the objects which the author had in view when he commenced the task. And if, when the undertaking is accomplished, the same reasons still exist either in part or whole; if his labours be calculated to supply a want which in any measure continues to be felt, he must trust that the kindness of the public will excuse that vanity which induces him to hope that his exertions may in some degree contribute to supply a desideratum among the elementary works of our country.
The author of the present sketch discovered, after he had been admitted into orders, that the knowledge of English ecclesiastical history which he possessed was very deficient. It was a point concerning which information was not to be readily obtained, but in which he felt that he ought to have made diligent search during the professional preparation of himself, on which every educated man, who is engaged in the instruction of others, is peculiarly bound to enter; he was distressed, that his knowledge of the sects among the philosophers of Athens was greater than his information on questions which affect the Church of England; and he determined to devote a considerable portion of those few hours which a laborious employment left at his disposal to the study of the history of our own church.
His pursuits were chiefly directed to those particulars which at the same time might supply him with real knowledge in his own profession; and he was disposed to hasten over periods which could furnish little but an acquaintance with facts, and an insight into ecclesiastical abuses. The circumstances in which he was placed furnished him with an abundance of books; but this very fact made him more sensible of the need of some guide to direct him in the selection of them; and notwithstanding the kind assistance provided by a large number of clerical friends, he found a diversity of advice, which perplexed rather than facilitated his progress. He sought in vain for a general history of the Church of England, which might furnish him with a map of his intended
journey ;, for those which exist are rather large surveys than maps; in which the general features are laid down on so extensive a scale, that they never exhibit a commodious view of the whole.
He determined, therefore, to draw up a sketch for himself, to lay down the great landmarks as distinctly as he could, and to fill up the details in such a manner as circumstances would allow. And conceiving that his own map, with all its imperfections, might be useful to others, he constantly framed it as he proceeded, thinking that, when his task was accomplished, it might either remain as a private memorial of his own studies, or be given to the public when the academical labours of the author were at an end, in case no work of the same description should previously supply the wants of individuals situated as he had been. When this period had arrived, and he hardly felt satisfied with the publications which had appeared, he ventured to print the present volumes. Mr. Southey's Book of the Church hardly satisfied him.' Mr. Carwithen has given a very faithful description of the country through which he has passed, but he has not sufficiently pointed out the more striking features to which the attention of the traveller must be directed, if he wishes to obtain an idea of the whole territory. Many of the other writers who might here be mentioned have examined only a part of the history of our church, and are perhaps liable to other objections.
A larger work than the present would probably have been better suited to a greater variety of readers; a small one, if it be wisely composed, will seek the immediate benefit of one class only, and trust to the chance, that whatever is useful to one description of persons can hardly prove uninteresting to others. The professed object of these pages is to facilitate the studies of young men who are preparing themselves for the offices of the Church, through their academical pursuits.
The careful perusal of two small volumesø may prevent them from being ignorant on those points on which general information is ordinarily expected : and prepare the way for more extensive studies, by furnishing them with the means of arranging systematically the knowledge which they shall otherwise acquire.
If such a book had fallen into the hands of the author twenty years agone, his labours might have been more profitably directed in the same course; for there is a certain quantity of knowledge necessary on every subject, before we shall proceed effectually to the acquisition of more; and it often happens that the want of this is not supplied, till the more active duties of life prevent the
i Dr. Short begs leave in this edition to apologize to Mr. Southey for expressions used in the first, which ought never to have been printed, and which are, for that reason, now omitted; especially as the new edition of Mr. Southey's work has obviated the want of references, to which allusion is there made.
2 The first edition was printed in two volumes.
clergyman from taking advantage of those channels of information which would otherwise have been open to him.
In the execution of this work, there is hardly enough of detail to satisfy the inquisitive; but while it assists him in his pursuits, it may prevent the idle from being totally ignorant on ecclesiastical history; it is with this view that the author has directed his particular attention to those points which constitute the history of the Church of England as it is at present established, to the Thirty-nine Articles, for instance, the translations of the Bible, and the Prayer Book.
It is probable that feelings of personal kindness may induce some individuals, who are possessed of a greater knowledge on ecclesiastical history, to favour these volumes with a reading; and they may wonder that the studies in which he has been engaged have not convinced the writer of the imperfections of his work, and the objections which may be raised against the attempt to crowd the whole history of our church into two small volumes. In extenuation of his defects, he would only plead the difficulty of the task, and beg them to examine the question on its right grounds. The work was composed when the author had an abundance of books, and but little time to use them; and has been prepared for the press in a small country village, where he has the command of his time, but of no library save his own private one. If, therefore, he had extended the limits of his work, the attempt must have been made under many disadvantages, of which they only can be fully aware who have once possessed a free admission into large libraries, of which they have been subsequently deprived. An occasional access to libraries is extremely useful for purposes of reference and collation ; but he who collects materials for history must search among a variety of books which the hand of time has consigned to oblivion, and which are frequently unworthy of the attention of the general reader; and no one can do this who is not resident among public libraries; nor can it be regarded in any light less serious than a national calamity, that the necessary labours of those who reside in the universities almost preclude the possibility of their deriving any extensive advantages from the treasures which are preserved around them.
In despair, therefore, of accomplishing any thing more worthy of the subject, yet hoping that his present labours may not have been totally thrown away, he commits himself to the kindness of his friends and readers, with a full conviction that none of them are more fully aware of the deficiencies of these volumes than himself. With regard to actual mistakes, he presumes
presumes that many may be discovered, arising partly from the extensive range of history which he has been forced to embrace, while the reader will criticise that portion with which he is best acquainted; he will ask, therefore, for a fair indulgence from those who have never engaged in such a task, nothing doubting that he who knows the difficulty of avoiding such errors, from experience, will use that forbearance which the case requires.