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EDWARD GIBBON, ESQ.,
ILLUSTRATED FROM HIS LETTERS, WITH OCCASIONAL NOTES
B. BLAKE, 13, BELL YARD, TEMPLE BAR.
THE melancholy duty of examining the papers of my deceased friend devolved upon me at a time when I was depressed by severe
In that state of mind, I hesitated to undertake the task of selecting and preparing his manuscripts for the press. The warmth of my early and long attachment to Mr. Gibbon made me conscious of a partiality, which it was not proper to indulge, especially in revising many of his juvenile and unfinished compositions. I had to guard, not only against a sentiment like my own, which I found extensively diffused, but also against the eagerness occasioned by a very general curiosity to see in print every literary relic, however imperfect, of so distinguished a writer.
Being aware how disgracefully authors of eminence have been often treated, by an indiscreet posthumous publication of fragments and careless effusions; when I had selected those papers which to myself appeared the fittest for the public eye, I consulted some of our common friends, whom I knew to be equally anxious with myself for Mr. Gibbon's fame, and fully competent, from their judgment, to protect it.
Under such a sanction it is, that, no longer suspecting myself to view through too favourable a medium the compositions of my friend, I now venture to publish them; and it may here be proper to give some information to the reader, respecting the contents of this volume.
The most important part consists of Memoirs of Mr. Gibbon's life and writings, a work which he seems to have projected with peculiar solicitude and attention, and of which he left six different sketches, all in his own hand-writing. One of these sketches, the most diffuse and circumstantial, so far as it proceeds, ends at the time when he quitted Oxford. Another at the year 1764, when he travelled to Italy. A third, at his father's death, in 1770. A fourth, which he continued to a short time after his return to Lausanne in 1788, appears in the form of Annals, much less detailed than the others. The two remaining sketches are still more imperfect. It is difficult to discover the order in which these several pieces were written,
but there is reason to believe that the most copious was the last. From all these the following Memoirs have been carefully selected, and put together.
My hesitation in giving these Memoirs to the world, arose principally from the circumstance of Mr. Gibbon's appearing, in some respect, not to have been satisfied with them, as he had so frequently varied their form: yet, notwithstanding this diffidence, the compositions, though unfinished, are so excellent, that they may justly entitle my friend to appear as his own biographer, rather than to have that task undertaken by any other person less qualified for it. This opinion has rendered me anxious to publish the present Memoirs, without any unnecessary delay; for I am persuaded that the author of them cannot be made to appear in a truer light than he does in the following pages. In them, and in his different Letters, which I have added, will be found a complete picture of his talents, his disposition, his studies, and his attainments.
Those slight variations of character, which naturally arose in the progress of his life, will be unfolded in a series of Letters, selected from a correspondence between him and myself, which continued full thirty years, and ended with his death.
It is to be lamented, that all the sketches of the Memoirs, except that composed in the form of Annals, and which seems rather designed as heads for a future work, cease about twenty years before Mr. Gibbon's death; and consequently, that we have the least detailed account of the most interesting part of his life. His correspondence during that period, will, in great measure, supply the deficiency. It will be separated from the Memoirs and placed in an Appendix, that those who are not disposed to be pleased with the repetitions, familiarities, and trivial circumstances of epistolary writing, may not be embarrassed by it. By many, the Letters will be found a very interesting part of the present publication. They will prove how pleasant, friendly, and amiable Mr. Gibbon was in private life; and if, in publishing letters so flattering to myself, I incur the imputation of vanity, I shall meet the charge with a frank confession that I am indeed highly vain of having enjoyed, for so many years, the esteem, the confidence, and the affection of a man, whose social qualities endeared him to the most accomplished society, and whose talents, great as they were, must be acknowledged to have been fully equalled by the sincerity of his friendship.
Whatever censure may be pointed against the editor, the public will set a due value on the Letters for their intrinsic merit. I must, indeed, be blinded, either by vanity or affection, if they do not display the heart and min 1 of their author, in such a manner as justly to increase the number of his admirers.
I have not been solicitous to garble or expunge passages which, to some, may appear trifling. Such passages will often, in the opinion of the observing reader, mark the character of the writer, and the omission of them would materially take from the ease and familiarity of authentic letters.
Few men, I believe, have ever so fully unveiled their own character,