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TO write the life of a person, against whom violent prejudices have long existed, and treat freely of one, as yet scarcely cold in his grave, is a task equally difficult and delicate. Yet memoirs, such as these, if composed with talents and fidelity, would contribute to rescue English biography from the charge of penury and partiality, on one hand, while, by laying open the secret springs of human action, on the other, they could not fail both to gratify and instruct mankind.
But if, unfortunately, the author does not possess such high pretensions to public attention, he, at least, hopes to be entitled to the humbler claims of candour and ingenuousness. It is his chief aim, on the present occasion, to rescue the name and character of a celebrated man from unmerited obloquy, and prove, not
withstanding some apparent political eccentricities, that he was a true, able, and firm friend to the laws and liberties of his native country. But it is not intended to describe him as a “ faultless monster,” entirely exempt from all the passions, the frailties, and the failings, incident to humanity. He has not drawn an imaginary picture, but painted a portrait from the living subject. The ends of legitimate biography are best fulfilled, by avoiding unmerited censure on one hand, and unjust panegyric on the other.
The materials of this work consist of original letters and papers, some of which have been communicated by the family of the deceased, and others by his friends. A variety of incidents have been supplied in consequence of an acquaintance of several years duration; and of the various conversations, some were penned soon after they occurred, and others supplied from memory.
It cannot be denied, that the correspondence with Mr. Wilkes has, in some measure, become obsolete, by the lapse of
time; it was absolutely necessary, however, to introduce it, for the purposes of elucidation; but the speeches from the Hustings, ought assuredly to have been consigned to the Appendix. The letters between Mr. Horne Tooke and Junius require no apology, as they reflect equal honour on the head and heart of the former.
Those who may expect a work favourable either to the views or wishes of
any religious sect, or political party, must be greatly disappointed; and it is to be hoped, that the most fastidious critic will be unable to discover any thing in these pages in the smallest degree hostile to religion, public morals, or the happy genius and peculiar nature of our free and admirable constitution.