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EDWARD GIBBON, ESQ.,
MEMOIRS OF HIS LIFE AND WRITINGS,
COMPOSED BY HIMSELF :
ILLUSTRATED FROM HIS LETTERS, WITH OCCASIONAL NOTES
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 effusions; 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 protect it.
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 this volume.
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 a short time after his return to Lausanne in 1788, appears in the form of Annals, much less detailed than the others. The two remaining sketches are still more imperfect. It is difficult to discover the order in which these several pieces were written,