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More than two years have now elapsed since the Editors of the prose works of Milton favoured me with an application for the life of the author. With the diffidence, proper to my conscious mediocrity of talents, but with the alacrity, inspired by the wish of illustrating a great and an injured character, I undertook, and soon sketched the rough draught of a large portion of the work. Unacquainted with the general progress of the publication, with which my biography was to be connected, I already looked forward to its early appearance, when it pleased the Almighty to visit me with an affliction, of such overwhelming force “as to oppress all my faculties, and, during a heavy interval of
many successive months, to render me incapable of the slightest mental exertion. From this half-animated state I was, at length, roused by a sense of the duty which I owed to my engagements, and by the fear of having in
jured, with the consequences of my weakness, those interests which I had bound myself by promise to promote. On the completion, however, of my work, I discovered, and not without some satisfaction, that my life of Milton was yet to wait for its associate volumes from the press, and consequently that I had contracted no obligations for indulgence either to the editors or the public. Of all the parties, indeed, engaged in the transaction I alone seemed to have experienced any essential change of situation in the interval between the expected and the actual period of the publication. Eighteen months ago I felt an interest in the scene around me, of which I must never again hope to be sensible; and my pen, which now moves only in obedience to duty, was then quickened by the influences of fame. Eighteen months ago, like the man who visited the Rosicrusian tomb, I was surrounded with brilliant light, but one blow dissolved the charm, broke the source of the illumination, and left me in sepulchral darkness. It is only, however, in their
reference to the execution of the following work that my calamities or my weaknesses can be of consequence to the public. If any passages, then, in the present life of Milton, should be noticed by the reader for peculiar deficiency in composition or in spirit, as he pronounces their merited condemnation let him be told that they were written by a father, who with a daughter, the delight and, alas! perhaps too much, the pride of his heart, has lost the great endearment of existence; the exhilaration of his cheerful and the solace of his melancholy hour.
Candour now requires me to speak of the literary assistance of which I have availed myself. If any vanity yet lingered in my bosom, in which every animating passion is nearly extinct, I might abundantly gratify the weakness by enumerating among my friends or acquaintance some of the first scholars and geniuses of the age: but of those, whose ability, if circumstances had permitted me to solicit its co-operation, would have imparted ornament and value to my production, my
with translations and extracts from my author, and with occasional, though short views of the great contemporary occurrences in the state.
For the political sentiments discoverable in my
work I am neither inclined, nor, indeed, able to offer an apology. They flow directly from those principles which I imbibed with my first efforts of reflexion, which have derived force from my subsequent reading and observation, which have “
grown with my growth, and strengthened with my strength.” If they should, therefore, unhappily be erroneous, my misfortune, as I fear, is hopelessly irremediable, for they are now so vitally blended with my thought and my feelings, that with them they must exist or must perish. The nature of these principles will be obviously and immediately apparent to my readers; for I have made too explicit an avowal of my political creed, with reference to the civil and the ecclesiastical system, of which I am fortunately a member, to be under any apprehensions of suffering by mis