« PreviousContinue »
THE Editors of the AUTOBIOGRAPHY feel little explanation necessary in regard to their motives for an early publication, in this series, of the very interesting Memoirs of the célebrated author of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.' Setting aside the great literary fame of Gibbon, the manner in which he has recorded the events of his life, and marked the formation of his character as a man and as a writer, has been deservedly regarded as in the highest degree both instructive and engaging. Assuming the most fascinating form of autobiography, the reader is conducted through all the stages of the life of a man of genius by himself; and that with a candour and an ingenuousness as rare as they are agreeable. Until the present republication, the Memoirs of this eloquent and philosophical historian have been included in the collection of his Miscellane
ous Works, the price of which is considerable; so that this edition possesses not only the advantage of the cheapness of the adopted mode of publication, but that of being obtainable without the purchase of matter with which it has no necessary connection. In the meantime, moved by the same reasons which induced lord Sheffield to point and illustrate the Memoirs of his eminent friend, by a selection from his correspondence, the Editors of the Autobiography have been led to retain the same epistolary selection in the way of appendix, with the exception of a few letters which, although acceptable in the eagerness to acquire whatever is connected with a great man, are not of a nature to excite a lasting interest. Thus slightly reduced, the present two volumes will contain not only the entire Memoirs of Gibbon, and the Appendix of lord Sheffield connected with them, but every particular of the correspondence supplied by that nobleman, which in a biographical sense is illustrative or essential.
ADVERTISEMENT TO THE FIRST EDITION
MISCELLANEOUS WORKS OF MR GIBBON;
ALL THE PASSAGES WHICH REFER TO HIS
MEMOIRS AND CORRESPONDENCE.
THE melancholy duty of examining the papers of my deceased friend devolved upon me at a time when I was depressed by severe afflictions.
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 effu.
sions; 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 pro
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 these volumes.
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 March 1791, appears in the form of annals, much less detailed than the others. The two remaining sketches are still more imperfect. But it is difficult to discover the order in which these several pieces were written. From all of them 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 seeming, in some respect, not to have been quite satisfied with them, as he had so frequently varied their form: yet, notwithstanding this diffidence, the compositions, though unfinished, are so excellent, that I think myself justified in permitting my friend to appear as his own biographer, rather than to have that office undertaken by any other person less qualified for it.
This opinion has rendered me anxious to publish