« VorigeDoorgaan »
Hist. - English
TO THE READER.
Mr. Fox was for some years engaged in an historical Work, which he did not live to complete. The curiosity excited by the knowledge that he was so employed, would be sufficient to justify the publication of any Fragment of his labours, even if it had been found in a more unfinished state than the Chapters which compose the body of this volume. It is, therefore, conceived, that although the work is incomplete, any apology would be misplaced, and that in fact, I only fulfil the wishes of the public, in laying before them all that can now be obtained of a history so earnestly expected from the pen of Mr. Fox.
An explanation, however, of the circumstances attending a posthumous publication, if not necessary for the satisfaction of the reader, is due to the memory and reputation of the author himself. Some notion of what
he projected, seems requisite towards forming an estimate of what he performed; and in this instance, the rumours formerly circulated concerning the nature of his undertaking, and the materials which he had collected, render indispensable, a short statement of his intentions, and of the manner in which he prosecuted his researches. It will be yet more necessary to explain the state in which the manuscript was found, and the course which has been pursued in printing a work, respecting which no positive injunctions were ever received from the author.
The precise period at which Mr. Fox first formed the design of writing a history, cannot be ascertained. In the year 1797, he announced publickly his intention -of devoting “ a greater * portion of his time to his pri“ vate pursuits :" He was even on the point of relinquishing his seat in Parliament, and retiring altogether from publick life'; a plan which he had formed many years before, and to the execution of which he always looked forward with the greatest delight. The remonstrances, however, of those friends, for whose judgment he had the greatest deference, ultimately prevailed. He consequently confined his scheme of retreat to a more uninterrupted residence in the country, than he had hitherto permitted himself to enjoy. During his retirement, that love of literature, and fondness for poetry,
* Vide Parliamentary Debates, May 26, 1797.
which neither pleasure nor business had ever extinguished, revived with an ardour, such as few in the eagerness of youth, or in pursuit of fame or advantage, are capable of feeling. For some time, however, his studies were not directed to any particular object. Such was the happy disposition of his mind, that his own reflections, whether supplied by conversation, desultory reading, or the common occurrences of a life in the country, were always sufficient to call forth the vigour and exertion of his faculties. Intercourse with the world had so little deadened in him the sense of the simplest enjoyments, that even in the hours of apparent leisure and inactivity, he retained that keen relish of existence, which, after the first impressions of life, is so rarely excited but by great interests and strong passions. Hence it was, that in the interval between his active attendance in Parliament, and the undertaking of his History, he never felt the tedium of a vacant day. A verse in Cowper, which he frequently repeated,
How various his employments whom the world
was an accurate description of the life he was then leading; and I am persuaded, that if he had consulted his own gratifications only, it would have continued to be so. The circumstances which led him once more to take an active part in publick discussions, are foreign to the purposes of this Preface. It is sufficient to remark,
that they could not be foreseen, and that his notion of engaging in some literary undertaking was adopted during his retirement, and with the prospect of long and uninterrupted leisure before him. When he had determined upon employing some part of it in writing, he was, no doubt, actuated by a variety of considerations, in the choice of the task he should undertake. His philosophy had never rendered him insensible to the gratification which the hope of posthumous fame so often producès in great minds; and, though criticism might be more congenial to the habits and amusements of his retreat, an historical work seemed more of a piece with: the tenour of his former life, and might prove of greater benefit to the publick, and to posterity. These motives, together with his intimate knowledge of the English Constitution, naturally led him to prefer the history of his own country, and to select a period favourable to the illustration of the great general principles of freedom, on which it is founded; for his attachment to those principles, the result of practical observation, as well as philosophical reflection, far from having abated, had acquired new force and fresh vigour in his retirement.
With these views, it was almost impossible that he should not fix on the Revolution of 1688. The event was cheering and animating. It was the most signal triumph of that cause to which his publick life had been, devoted; and in a review of its progress, he could not