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DR GIESELER'S Compendium of Ecclesiastical History is marked by peculiar excellencies. It occupies an important position of its own. The text is very brief and condensed, marking the results at which the learned author has arrived; while the accumulated materials in the notes enable the reader to see at once the basis on which the statements of the text rest. If the student be not convinced of the correctness of the assertions made by the historian, he can easily draw his own conclusion by the help of what is presented to him. The work is characterised by immense research, and by striking impartiality. In the latter respect, indeed, the author has been blamed by some, his spirit of impartiality preventing him from expressing a decided opinion, where it would be desirable to throw the weight of his authority into the side of truth. There is also an air of dryness diffused over the work, inseparable perhaps from its exceeding brevity, but also indicating a deficiency in vivid sketching. The excellencies, however, far outweigh any minor faults that may be supposed to belong to it. Its rigid impartiality is its chief recommendation; and the abundant references and quotations in the notes supply the want of a library such as very few have within their reach.
The work in the original consists of several volumes published at different times. The first division of the last volume, containing a portion of the history of the Reformation in different lands, appeared in 1840. In 1844 and 1845 a fourth edition of the first volume was published, one part in each year, greatly improved and enlarged. The author states in the preface, that this volume first appeared twenty years ago, and that during the interval he has not been inattentive to the subject, but has endeavoured to conform his book to the latest investigations. On comparing this edition with the third, we have observed a great improvement, and a large number of new notes.
It may be proper to apprise the reader, that an American translation of the history, down to the time of the Reformation, appeared at Philadelphia in 1836, professedly taken from the third edition of the original. The fourth, however, is so different from the third, (if, indeed, Cunninghame's version was made from the latter,) that it was deemed desirable to make a new version.
The Translator has adhered closely to the original text. His simple aim has been to give the sense of his author. He has not endeavoured to make the narrative smooth or elegant, for in that case he should have been compelled to resort to paraphrase, Professor Gieseler being by no means an elegant writer. On the contrary, his style is loose, and his sentences evidently constructed without any view to effect. It must be always remembered, that the book is a text-book, not an extended history, like Neander's. As such, the Translator reckons it invaluable. In truth, there are only two ecclesiastical histories at the present time that deserve to be read and studied, viz. those of Neander and Gieseler, both ex fontibus hausti, as Bretschneider once remarked to the writer. Guerike's is one-sided; and Hase's, alas! is too short.
The Translator, on looking about for a text-book which he could put into the hands of his students as the substratum of lectures on ecclesiastical history, could find none so suitable to his purpose as the present; and he accordingly recommended the enterprising publishers to bring out a new version of the new edition, that students might not be obliged to apply to the American translation, the cost of which is very considerable.
It is almost superfluous to state, that the Translator does not coincide with all the sentiments of Dr Gieseler. He has occasionally inserted in brackets a reference to books with which the German professor is probably unacquainted.
LANCASHIRE INDEPENDENT COLLEGE
October 10, 1846.