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tive parts of this middle period, it has been my object to avoid the dry composition of annals, and aiming, with what spirit and freedom I could, at a just outline rather than a miniature, to suppress all events that did not appear essentially concatenated with others, or illustrative of important conclusions. But as the modes of government and constitutional laws which prevailed in various countries of Europe, and especially in England, seemed to have been less fully dwelt upon in former works of this description than military or civil transactions, while they were deserving of far more attention, I have taken pains to give a true representation of them, and in every instance to point out the sources from which the reader may derive more complete and original information.
Nothing can be farther from my wishes than that the following pages should be judged according to the critical laws of historical composition. Tried in such a balance they would be eminently defective. The limited extent of this work, compared with the subjects it embraces, as well as its partaking
more of the character of political dissertation than of narrative, must necessarily preclude that circumstantial delineation of events and of characters, upon which the beauty as well as usefulness of a regular history so mainly depends. Nor can I venture to assert that it will be found altogether perspicuous to those who are destitute of any previous acquaintance with the period to which it relates; though I have only pre-supposed, strictly speaking, a knowledge of the common facts of English history, and have endeavoured to avoid, in treating of other countries, those allusive references, which imply more informa tion in the reader than the author designs to communicate. But the arrangement which I have adopted has sometimes rendered it necessary to anticipate both names and facts, which are to find a more definite place in a subsequent part of the work.
This arrangement is probably different from that of any former historical retrospect. Every chapter of the following volumes completes its particular subject, and may be considered in some degree as independent of the
rest. The order, consequently, in which they are read will not be very material, though of course I should rather prefer that in which they are at present disposed. A solicitude to avoid continual transitions, and to give free scope to the natural association of connected facts, has dictated this arrangement, to which I confess myself partial. And I have found its inconveniences so trifling in composition, that I cannot believe they will occasion much trouble to the reader.
The first chapter comprizes the history of France from the invasion of Clovis to the expedition, exclusively, of Charles VIII. against Naples. It is not possible to fix accurate limits to the Middle Ages; but though the ten centuries from the fifth to the fifteenth seem, in a general point of view, to constitute that period, a less arbitrary division was necessary to render the commencement and conclusion of an historical narrative satisfactory. The continuous chain of transactions on the stage of human society is ill divided by mere lines of chronological demarcation. But as the subversion of the western empire
is manifestly the natural termination of ancient history, so the establishment of the Franks in Gaul appears the most convenient epoch for the commencement of a new period. Less difficulty occurred in finding the other limit. The invasion of Naples by Charles VIII. was the event that first engaged the principal states of Europe in relations of alliance or hostility which may be deduced to the present day, and is the point at which every man who traces backwards its political history will be obliged to pause: It furnishes a determinate epoch in the annals of Italy and France, and nearly coincides with events which naturally terminate the history of the middle ages in other countries.
The feudal system is treated in the second chapter, which I have subjoined to the history of France, with which it has a near connexion. Inquiries into the antiquities of that jurisprudence occupied more attention in the last age than at present, and their dryness may prove repulsive to many readers. But there is no royal road to the knowledge of law; nor can any man render an obscure
and intricate disquisition either perspicuous or entertaining. That the feudal system is an important branch of historical knowledge will not be disputed, when we consider not only its influence upon our own constitution, but that one of the parties which at present divide a neighbouring kingdom professes to appeal to the original principles of its monarchy, as they subsisted before the subversion of that polity.
The four succeeding chapters contain a sketch, more or less rapid and general, of the histories of Italy, of Spain, of Germany, and of the Greek and Saracenic empires. In the seventh I have endeavoured to develop the progress of ecclesiastical power, a subject eminently distinguishing the Middle Ages, and of which a concise and impartial delineation has long been desirable.
The English constitution furnishes materials for the eighth chapter. I cannot hope to have done sufficient justice to this theme, which has cost me considerable labour; but it is worthy of remark, that since the trea