button to main menu  Clarke's Survey of the Lakes, 1787

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I. IT generally affords some degree of amusement, to those who possess an extensive acquaintance with general history, to observe the minute causes from whence important events have so often derived their origin. For if trifles often affect the minds of the greatest men, and of the greatest multitudes; the first by their situation, and the latter by their bulk, occasion those affairs in the world which we characterize by the name of Important; whilst, in the greatness of their effects, their insignificant original causes are generally forgotten. Yet every investigating faculty of the human mind is interested, when an opportunity offers of deducing, by a direct channel, large and extensive consequents, from a combination of circumstances, either overlooked because they are common, or slighted because they are trivial; but such as, when united and urged in a particular direction, thrust themselves abroad into the world, and become of consequence to mankind: even when no such direct channel of inquiry offers itself, we are apt enough to be pleased, if, by comparison and analogy, we can draw such inferences as Curiosity at least may warrant, and Reason not disavow.
II. When we wish for the leading parts of a distinguished character, we recur to private anecdotes of the life to which it belongs; are fond of tracing the connection between these and its more noted exploits, and fancy we see some uniform motive still exerting itself, though in different quarters, and on a diversity of objects; proportioning its powers to the nature or magnitude of its toil, and only varying as employments vary. The same wish operates with respect to nations at large: we aim at their leading motives, and find it easy to call such or such an action the natural result of such an humour, or such a prejudice.
III. To say positively for what particular reason the people of different countries have adopted this or that custom, will always be beyond the reach of the keenest speculation. Some, it is likely, nature hath originally given to all; others, climate and circumstances may have engrafted: but the greatest part must be referred to that complex and obscure variety of intervening causes, to which, because we cannot develope their particular relation, nor trace them through their intricate mazes, we have affixed the general epithet of Chance. These again, in a sort of permutation, have produced an infinite number of distinctions, of which local history can only take in a part at a time: however, in every country some particular things may be found, which on comparison appear similar to those of another; yet are of such a kind, that they cannot easily be attributed to nature or climate alone, but bear the marks of a commerce and interchange, that has at some time subsisted, either directly, or by the mediation of others. If "I will throw a stone upon your cairn," was an expression of friendship amongst our forefathers, we, of course, refer it to their Scythian ancestors; yet these tumuli, which we call Cairns and Barrows, are found to have been in old times amongst the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans; and indeed what else are the Egyptian pyramids? But who would have thought that these same cairns or barrows, and this same custom, should have existed beyond the utmost eastern limits of Asia, in the barren island of Oonalashka? Again: The crisping, perfuming, and powdering of hair, are things which have been in former ages as well as this; yet one rather startles at hearing that they are common to unknown savages on the opposite side of the world, and beyond the southern tropic. Painting seems, by all wild nations, to have been first applied to their own bodies; and it is hard to determine, that the custom has not crept down, through all the different stages of civilization, from those times to our own. That the component parts of dead bodies should be united at a certain period, and become immortal, was a tenet amongst the Greeks, as well as amongst Jews and Christians. The belief of a chaos, of a rebellion in Heaven, of a general deluge, and of several other things, have been common to religions vastly remote from each other. There is a strong resemblance between
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