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their useful and meritorious actions, during the continuance of a lengthened, happy, and profperous reign, is the fervent with, and devout prayer, of
London, Nov. 1798.
most humble and
Subjects and Servants,
THE object of the Work which is now fubmitted to the
Public, is to exhibit, in the memoirs of the illustrious actors, the public and fecret hiftory of the prefent times. Refpectable works, of a fimilar defcription, have been published in various countries on the continents none, however, have hitherto been attempted, upon the same plan, in this country.
BIOGRAPHY, in all its forms, is allowed to be the most fascinating and inftructive species of literary composition. It not only poffeffes all the advantages of general history, the various excellencies of which may be judiciously interwoven with the lives of eminent perfonages, but it frequently difcovers the minute and latent springs of great events, which, in the comprehenfive range of Hiftory, would have escaped attention,
Many of the attractions of Biography in generál, and fome additional advantages, are poffeffed by contemporary Biography. The memoirs of men, who are the present ac
tors on the great theatre of life, who acquire and demand public confidence, and from whom further refults of action or meditation are to be expected, neceffarily excite a higher degree of curiofity, than the lives of those who have made their exit from the stage, by whom no future good or evil can be performed or perpetrated, and who, "dead, gone, and forgotten," are generally carried down the ftream of oblivion, and swollowed up in the gulph of unregistered mortality.
It must be admitted, that the biographer of deceased perfons is better enabled, by the independence of his fituation, and a more extenfive retrospect, to estimate the degree of virtue and vice, and to appreciate the fum total of merit and demerit with greater precifion, than the contemporary biographer, who is reftrained, by the extreme delicacy of his undertaking, from giving the finishing stroke to his delineations of character, whofe incomplete materials prevent him from deducing general and important conclufions in their proper latitude, and, in many cafes, from difcriminating between hypocrify and fincerity. Still, however, a writer of this description is better able to collect facts, and máy, in general, be more depended upon, as to the authenticity of his teftimony, then he who writes the lives of deceased perfons. Many eminent men, refpecting whom pofterity have cause to lament the deficiency of biographical information, have paffed their early days in obfcurity, and those who then knew them were either too ignorant, or too unobservant, to be able to make any communications refpecting them. When death has once fet his feal upon their labours, few or no opportunities offer of obtaining fatisfactory and circumftantial information; their early contemporaries are, probably, alfo gone off the ftage. From caufes like these, how little is known of fome of the moft diftinguished luminaries that have irradiated the political and literary hemispheres !
Of many who know only, that they filled elevated fituations, that they composed splendid works, made important discoveries, died in a particular year, and were at length interred in fome venerable repofitory of the dead.→
An annual publication like the prefent will beft provide against a future deficiency of this kind, with regard to the diftinguished perfonages who now fill up the drama of public life in the British empire. The Editors are not like ly to commit themselves, and the reputation of their work, by inferting direct falfehoods, or partial mif representations: no character, of whom they now or may hereafter treat, can be thought infenfible to the love of contemporary or pofthumous fame; hence, fhould any undefigned error, or any inaccurate statement, inadvertently escape them, it may be rationally prefumed, that the party affected, from a regard to his own reputation, will take the earliest opportunity to correct fuch mistatements; or that fome friend, intimately acquainted with the fubject, in the candour and warmth of esteem, may be stimulated to write a more particular and accurate account, for a fubfequent edition."
From these premises may it not be reafonably concluded, that this Work poffeffes a legitimate claim to public patronage, as well from its promised utility to future biogra phers and hiftorians, as from its being an highly entertaining and useful assemblage of interesting and important facts and anecdotes ?
In respect to the prefent volume, it is neceffary to remark, that the articles are written by a number of gentlemen, whose adopted fignatures are affixed to their respective
*Befide other arguments which may be urged in recommendation of this novel undertaking, the Editors might quote the example of fome of the most illuftrious men in all ages and nations, who have judged it proper to write their own memoirs, and to publish them during their lifetime.
communications. Such a multiplicity of facts, in so exten five and various a group of characters, could not have been fupplied by any one or two individuals. Although a delicate task, the mode generally adopted in the composition of this work, has been to apply to fome friend of the party, whofe intimate knowledge of the relative facts and circumftances qualified him to do ample juftice to the character. This indifpenfable arrangement, requifite to produce the faithful execution of the volume, has, however, occafioned a variety in the ftyle and manner of the several articles, which, at first fight, may give it a sort of heterogeneous appearance, but will not detract from its real merit in the eftimation of the judicious reader.
It is poffible that a faftidious obferver, or other person more intimately connected with the subject of the several memoirs, may here and there detect fame venial error, fome trifling anachronism, or apparent mifconftruction; for these the Editors can only atone, by expreffing their earnest wish for more correct information, which will be thankfully received, and punctually attended to in a future edition. That fome inaccuracies are unavoidable in a work of this nature, must naturally be expected by every perfon accuftomed to habits of literary compofition, or who poffeffes fufficient knowlege of the complicated occurrences which mark the career of public and private life.
The Editors are more seriously apprehensive left, in any inftance whatever, they should unfortunately and unintentionally be a means of wounding the acute fenfibility, the laudable ambition, or the generous pride of any individual; no procedure could be more alien to their wishes and intentions. Any representation on the part of those who may think themselves aggrieved, which may be transmitted to the Editors, fhall be treated with marked deference and attention. The moft fcrupulous caution has been exercifed, to divest the tout ensemble of every appearance of national and political partialities