Item of the Day: The History of the American Revolution (1791)

Full Title: The History of the American Revolution. By David Ramsay, M.D., of South Carolina. Vol. I. London: sold by J. Johnson and J. Stockdale, M.DCC.XCI. [1791]

 

ADVERTISMEMENT,

BY AN

ENGLISH FRIEND.

THE particulars of the American Revolution may by many be thought to be sufficiently known; but, if we deduct from our first accounts all that was false or that is by this time forgotten, and add all that is true which has since been discovered, the history, now presented to the English reader, may be esteemed in a great measure new. It is new even among the Americans; and in any event it must produce a new effect upon the judgment and feelings of every one, as being digested out of scattered materials. There are few indeed to whom the work will be more interesting than to those who have borne a share in the events which it records; and there is no portion of modern, or perhaps antient, history, more worthy as respecting politics, war, or the human character.

Should the perusal of it revive some of the regrets of Englishmen, the contemplation of our past misfortunes may at least prove a lesson for avoiding the like in future; especially in the present eventful age, when no political course can long be safe which is not framed upon principles, and suited both the the temper and interests of mankind.

The discovery of the distress which the Americans suffered at the close of the war, must not lead us to lament the peace which followed; for the distress experienced was certainly mutual. But had it even been in our power for the moment to subjugate America, either terms must have been granted to her equivalent to independence, or else a perpetual cause of war would have remained; which in the case of a spirited and increasing people, must always have proved burthensome on our side, and sooner or later have terminated in their favor. At present, none can doubt, that a more beneficial connection with America is open to us, than any which could have procured by force.

The particular history before us, is at once short and full, as well as judicious, authentic, and impartial, and is clearly the best extant on the subject.

Some allowances nevertheless are requisite in favor of the present work, which from several passages in it, appears not to have received the author’s last corrections. Various inaccuracies also, especially in the first volume, have crept into it, from errors either of the transcriber or of the press. A table of these is formed wherever they are of moment. —Some peculiarities of style will still be found remaining, a part of which belong to the author, and the rest to the country to which he belongs.

It is a curious fact, that there is perhaps no one portion of the British empire, in which two or three millions of persons are to be found, who speak their mother-tongue with greater purity, or a truer pronuciation, than the white inhabitants of the United States. This was attributed, by a pentrating observer, to the number of British subjects assembled in America from various quarters, who, in consequence of their intercourse and intermarriages, soon dropped the peculiarities of their several provincial idioms, retaining only what was fundamental and common to them all; a process, which the requency or rather the universality of school-learning in North America; must naturally have assisted. —At the same time there are few natives of the United States, who are altogether free from what may be called Americanisms, both in their speech and their writing. In the case of words of rarer use, they have framed their own models of pronunciation, as having little access to those established among the people from whom they have derived their language; and hence they are sometimes at variance with us in their speech, (to say nothing of the peculiar tones of voice which prevail in some parts of the United States.) But their familiarity with our best writers has in general left them ingnorant of nothing which regards our phraseology; and hence their chief difference in writing consists in their having added a few words to our language, in consequence of the influence of some local authority or of their peculiar situation. Some of these additions we have ourselves received, as in the case of the words “organize and organization,” when applied to political bodies; others we have listened to without as yet adopting, as in the case of the words “the legislative and the executive,” when used as subtantives; but others again we have altogether declined to countenance, as the words, “to advocate and to loan,” which appear to be verbs invented without any apparent reason. The author before us will furnish several examples of what is here alluded to, where the solitary authority of a few Englsih writers, if such are to be found in his favor, cannot be considered as of force enough to be opposed to the general habit of our nation. —Happily, however, these criticisms are of little practical use; for, no terms can become current in either of the two countries, which will not easily be understood in both of them. —It is thus that the new circumstances of the French have brought various words into use with that nation, which were before unkown to it; but they are all of them immediately intelligible, whether they are borrowed from us, or from America, or, like the words “civisme and incivisme,” have originated among themselves. . . .

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Filed under 1790's, American Revolution, Colonial America, Great Britain, History, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

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