Preface to Father Lobo

By Samuel Johnson

Edited by Jack Lynch

[Headnote to follow.]

[1] The following relation is so curious and entertaining, and the dissertations that accompany it so judicious and instructive, that the translator is confident his attempt stands in need of no apology, whatever censures may fall on the performance.

[2] The Portuguese traveller, contrary to the general vein of his countrymen, has amused his reader with no romantick absurdities or incredible fictions; whatever he relates, whether true or not, is at least probable, and he who tells nothing exceeding the bounds of probability, has a right to demand, that they should believe him, who cannot contradict him.

[3] He appears by his modest and unaffected narration to have described things as he saw them, to have copied nature from the life, and to have consulted his senses not his imagination; he meets with no basilisks that destroy with their eyes, his crocodiles devour their prey without tears, and his cataracts fall from the rock without deafening the neighbouring inhabitants.

[4] The reader will here find no regions cursed with irremediable barrenness, or bless’d with spontaneous fecundity, no perpetual gloom or unceasing sunshine; nor are the nations here described either devoid of all sense of humanity, or consummate in all private and social virtues, here are no Hottentots without religion, polity, or articulate language, no Chinese perfectly polite, and compleatly skill’d in all sciences: he will discover, what will always be discover’d by a diligent and impartial enquirer, that wherever human nature is to be found, there is a mixture of vice and virtue, a contest of passion and reason, and that the Creator doth not appear partial in his distributions, but has balanced in most countries their particular inconveniences by particular favours.

[5] In his account of the mission, where his veracity is most to be suspected, he neither exaggerates overmuch the merits of the Jesuits, if we consider the partial regard paid by the Portugese to their countrymen, by the Jesuits to their society, and by the Papists to their church, nor aggravates the vices of the Abyssins; but if the reader will not be satisfied with a popish account of a popish mission, he may have recourse to the history of the Church of Abyssinia, written by Dr. Geddes, in which he will find the actions and sufferings of the missionaries placed in a different light, though the same in which Mr. Le Grand, with all his zeal for the Roman Church, appears to have seen them.

[6] This learned dissertator, however valuable for his industry and erudition, is yet more to be esteem’d for having dared so freely in the midst of France to declare his disapprobation of the Patriarch Oviedo’s sanguinary zeal, who was continually importuning the Portuguese to beat up their drums for missionaries, who might preach the Gospel with swords in their hands, and propagate by desolation and slaughter the true worship of the God of Peace.

[7] It is not easy to forbear reflecting with how little reason these men profess themselves the followers of Jesus, who left this great characteristick to his disciples, that they should be known “by loving one another,” by universal and unbounded charity and benevolence.

[8] Let us suppose an inhabitant of some remote and superiour region, yet unskill’d in the ways of men, having read and considered the precepts of the Gospel, and the example of our Saviour, to come down in search of the True Church: if he would not enquire after it among the cruel, the insolent, and the oppressive; among those who are continually grasping at dominion over souls as well as bodies; among those who are employed in procuring to themselves impunity for the most enormous villanies, and studying methods of destroying their fellow-creatures, not for their crimes but their errors; if he would not expect to meet benevolence engaged in massacres, or to find mercy in a court of inquisition, he would not look for the True Church in the Church of Rome.

[9] Mr. Le Grand has given in one dissertation an example of great moderation, in deviating from the temper of his religion, but in the others has left proofs, that learning and honesty are often too weak to oppose prejudice. He has made no scruple of preferring the testimony of Father du Bernat, to the writings of all the Portuguese Jesuits, to whom he allows great zeal, but little learning, without giving any other reason than that his favourite was a Frenchman. This is writing only to Frenchmen and to Papists: a Protestant would be desirous to know why he must imagine that Father du Bernat had a cooler head or more knowledge; and why one man whose account is singular, is not more likely to be mistaken than many agreeing in the same account.

[10] If the Portuguese were byass’d by any particular views, another byass equally powerful may have deflected the Frenchman from the truth, for they evidently write with contrary designs; the Portuguese, to make their mission seem more necessary, endeavour’d to place in the strongest light the differences between the Abyssinian and Roman Church, but the great Ludolfus laying hold on the advantage, reduced these later writers to prove their conformity.

[11] Upon the whole, the controversy seems of no great importance to those who believe the Holy Scriptures sufficient to teach the way of salvation, but of whatever moment it may be thought, there are not proofs sufficient to decide it.

[12] His discourses on indifferent subjects, will divert as well as instruct, and if either in these or in the relation of Father Lobo, any argument shall appear unconvincing, or description obscure, they are defects incident to all mankind, which, however, are not too rashly to be imputed to the authors, being, sometimes, perhaps more justly chargeable on the translator.

[13] In this translation (if it may be so call’d) great liberties have been taken, which, whether justifiable or not, shall be fairly confess’d, and let the judicious part of mankind pardon or condemn them.

[14] In the first part the greatest freedom has been used, in reducing the narration into a narrow compass, so that it is by no means a translation but an epitome, in which whether every thing either useful or entertaining be comprised, the compiler is least qualified to determine.

[15] In the account of Abyssinia, and the continuation, the authors have been follow’d with more exactness, and as few passages appeared either insignificant or tedious, few have been either shortened or omitted.

[16] The dissertations are the only part in which an exact translation has been attempted, and even in those, abstracts are sometimes given instead of literal quotations, particularly in the first; and sometimes other parts have been contracted.

[17] Several memorials and letters, which are printed at the end of the dissertations to secure the credit of the foregoing narrative, are entirely left out.

[18] ’tis hoped, that, after this confession, whoever shall compare this attempt with the original, if he shall find no proofs of fraud or partiality, will candidly overlook any failure of judgment.