In the course of my work as assistant librarian of Harvard University, about seventeen years ago, I had occasion to overhaul what we used to call the "American Room," and to superintend or revise the cataloguing of some thousands of titles of volumes and pamphlets relating to America. In the course of this work my attention was called more and more to sundry problems and speculations connected with the transplantation of European communities to American soil, their development under the new conditions, and the effect of all this upon the general progress of civilization. The study of aboriginal America itself presented many other interesting problems. In 1879, 1881, and 1882, I gave courses of lectures at the Old South Meeting-House in Boston, in aid of the fund for the preservation of that venerable building, and in pursuance of Mrs. Hemenway's scheme for making it a place for the teaching of American history. As to the success of that scheme we may now speak with some satisfaction. The preservation of the noble old church may be regarded as assured; the courses of instruction there given in American history and cognate subjects are attended by thousands, old and young, especially by school-teachers and their pupils; and similar courses of study have already been inaugurated in several other cities and towns. It is believed that the good results of this work will be manifold.
As regards my lectures, just mentioned, they dealt chiefly with the discovery and colonization of America, and contained sundry generalizations since embodied in "American Political Ideas" and in the first chapter of "The Beginnings of New England." Some further generalizations of a similar sort will be worked out in my forthcoming book --now in press-- "The Discovery and Spanish Conquest of America."
While busy in this work, the plan occurred to me in 1881 of writing a narrative history of the United States, neither too long to be manageable nor too brief to be interesting, something that might comprise the whole story from 1492 to (say) 1865 within four octavos, like the book of my lamented friend, the late John Richard Green. Plans of this sort, to be properly carried out, require much time, and a concurrence of favourable circumstances, as Mr. Cotter Morison has pointed out in his sketch of Gibbon. If my plan is ever fully realized, it can only be after many years.
Meanwhile it has seemed to me that fragments of the work might as well be published from time to time as to be lying idle in manuscript in a cupboard. It was with this feeling that "The Critical Period of American History" and "The Beginnings of New England" were brought out, and it is with the same feeling that these volumes on "The American Revolution" are now offered to the public.
In writing the story of this period my design was not so much to contribute new facts as to shape the narrative in such a way as to emphasize relations of cause and effect that are often buried in the mass of details. One is constantly tempted, in such a narrative, to pause for discussion, and to add item upon item of circumstantial description because it is interesting in itself; but in conformity with the plan of the book of which this was to have been a part, it was necessary to withstand such temptations. I have not even undertaken to mention all the events of the Revolutionary War. For example, nothing is said about the Penobscot expedition, which was a matter of interest to the people of Massachusetts, but of no significance in relation to the general history of the war.
The present work is in no sense "based upon" lectures, but it has been used as a basis for lectures. When I had nearly finished writing it, in 1888, I happened to read a few passages to some friends, and was thereupon urged to read the whole work, or the greater part of it, as lectures.
This was done in the Old South Meeting-House early in 1884. The lectures were afterward given in many towns and cities, from Maine to Oregon, usually to very large audiences. In Boston, New York, and St. Louis the whole course was given from two to five times; and single lectures were repeated in many places. I was greatly surprised at the interest thus shown in a plain narrative of events already well known, and have never to this day understood the secret of it.
On some accounts I should have been glad to withhold this book some years longer, in the hope of changing its plan somewhat and giving the subject a fuller treatment, now that it is not to appear as part of a larger work. But so many requests have been made for the story in book form that it has seemed best to yield to them. In relation to these two volumes, "The Critical Period of American History" now stands as a third volume. The narrative is continuous from the one to the other.
I have not thought it worth while to add to the present work a bibliographical note, because, in view of the existence of Mr. Justin Winsor's "Reader's Handbook of the American Revolution," such a note would be quite superfluous. Mr. Winsor's book contains a vast amount of bibliographical information, most lucidly arranged, within a very small compass, and costs but a trifle. From it the general reader can find out "where to go" for further information concerning any and all points that may come up in these volumes; and if then he still wants more, he may consult the sixth and seventh volumes of Winsor's "Narrative and Critical History of America."
The portrait of Washington prefixed to this volume is now engraved, I believe, for the first time. It is from a miniature enamelled on copper by Henry Bone, R. A., an artist preeminent for skill in such work. Bone appears to have followed an original crayon sketch of Washington made in 1796 by William Birch, to whom he has given credit by putting his initials, W. B., on the miniature. This has given rise to an error; the initials have been mistaken for those of Bone himself, who has thus been wrongly spoken of as "William" Bone. The miniature was made for a family in England. After some years this family became straitened in circumstances, and the miniature was bought by George Peabody, who gave it to a lady in London interested in such
things. By 1870 this lady in turn became desirous of obtaining its value, and a communication upon the subject was published in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society for April of that year. It has since then come into the hands of Mrs. Hemenway of Boston, its present owner.
My thanks are due to Messrs. G. P. Putnam's Sons for permission to use the map of the battle of Monmouth.
ST. LOUIS, April 14, 1891.
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