« VorigeDoorgaan »
fail to recognize those principles which had regulated his own political conduct. But the choice of that period was recommended by yet higher considerations; the desire of rescuing from misrepresentation, the most glorious transaction of our history; the opportunity of instructing his countrymen in the real nature of their Constitution; and the hope of impressing on mankind those lessons applicable to all times, which are to be drawn from that memorable occurrence.
The manner in which the most popular historians, and other writers of eminence, had treated the subject, was likely to stimulate him more strongly to such an, undertaking. It could not escape the observation of Mr. Fox, that some, from the bias of their individual opinións, had given a false colour to the whole transaction; that others had wilfully distorted the facts tą serve some temporary purpose; and that Bolingbroke, in particular, had confounded the distinct and even opposite views of the two leading parties, who, though they concurred in the measure, retained even in their ụnion, all their respective tenets and fundamental distinctions.
According to his first crude conceptions of the work, it would, as far as I recollect, have begun at the Revolution ; but he altered his mind, after a careful perusal of the latter part of Hume's history. An apprehen-, sion of the false impressions which that great historian's
partiality, might have left on the mind of his readers, induced him to go back to the accession of King James the Second, and even to prefix an Introductory Chapter, on the character and leading events of the times immediately preceding.
From the moment his labour commenced, he generally spoke of his plan as extending no further than the settlement at the Revolution. His friends, however, were not without hopes, that the habit of composition might engage him more deeply in literary undertakings, or that the different views which the course of his enquiries would open, might ultimately allure him on further in the history of his country. Some casual expressions, both in conversation and correspondence, seemed to imply that the possibility of such a result was not entirely out of his own contemplation. He acknowledged that some papers which I had the good fortune to procure in Spain, “ though they did not relate to his
period exactly, might be very useful to him, and at all “ events entertaining; nay, possibly, that they might “ make him go on further than he intended."*-As his work advanced, his allusions to various literary projects, such as an edition of Dryden, a Defence of Racine and the French Stage, Essay on the Beauties of Euripides, &c. &c. became more frequent, and were more confidently expressed. In a letter written to me in 1803, after observing, that a modern writer did not sufficiently admire Racine, he adds—" It puts me
* MS. Correspondence.
quite in a passion. Je veux contre eux faire un jour " un gros livre, as Voltaire says. Even Dryden, who
speaks with proper respect of Corneille, vilipends * • Racine. If ever I publish my edition of his works, I s will give it him for it, you may depend. Oh how I “ wish that I could make up my mind to think it right,
to devote all the remaining part of my life to such
subjects, and such only! Indeed I rather think I “shall ; and yet, if there were a chance of re-establish· ing a strong Whig party, (however composed,)
6. Non adeo has exosa manus victoria fugit
Even while his undertaking was yet fresh, in the course of an enquiry into some matters relating to the trial of Somerset, in King James the First's reign, he says to his correspondent, “ But what is all this, you will "say, to my history? Certainly nothing; but one histo"rical enquiry leads to another; and I recollect that the
impression upon my mind was, that there was more reason than is generally allowed, for suspecting
that Prince Henry was poisoned by Somerset, and " that the King knew of it after the fact. This is not, “ to be sure, to my present purpose ; but I have thought
* Mr. Fox often used this word in ridicule of pedantic expressions.
" of prefixing to my work, if it ever should be finished, " a disquisition upon Hume's History of the Stewarts, " and in no part of it would his partiality appear stron
ger, than in James the First."*
About the same time, he talked of writing, either in the form of a dedication, or dialogue, a treatise on the three arts of Poetry, History, and Oratory; which, to my surprize, he classed in the order I have related. The plan of such a work seemed, in a great measure, to be digested in his head, and from the sketch he drew of his design to me, it would, if completed, have been an invaluable monument of the great originality of thought, and singular philosophical acuteness, with which he was accustomed to treat of such subjects in his most careless conversations. But though a variety of literary projects might occasionally come across him, he was very cautious of promising too much; for he was aware, that whatever he undertook, his progress in it would necessarily be extremely słow. He could not but foresee, that as new events arose, his friends would urge him to return to politicks; and though his own inclinations might enable him to resist their entreaties, the very discussion on the propriety of yielding, would produce an attention to the state of publick affairs, and divert him in some degree from the pursuit in which he was engaged. But it was yet more difficult to fortify himself against the seductions of his own inclination, which was continually drawing him off from his historical researches, to critical enquiries, to the study of the classicks, and to works of imagination and poetry. Abundant proof exists of the effect of these interruptions, both on his labours and on his mind. His letters are filled with complaints, of such as arose from politicks, while he speaks with delight and complacency of whole days devoted to Euripides and Virgil.
* MS Gorrespondence to Lord Lauderdale.
The scale which his various pursuits occupied in his estimation, is very naturally described in several of his letters. And as it is not entirely foreign to the purpose of this Preface, my readers may not be displeased with the insertion of one, as a specimen of his familiar correspondence.
Dear Grey, “ In defence of my opinion about the nightingales, I “ find Chaucer, who of all poets seems to have been the “ fondest of the singing of birds, calls it a merry note; " and though Theocritus mentions nightingales six or “ seven times, he never mentions their note as plain
tive or melancholy. It is true, he does not call it any where merry, as Chaucer does; but by mentioning it with the song of the blackbird, and as answering it, he seems to imply, that it was a chearful note.