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A new edition of this Life of Milton being required, I have given my best attention and abilities to the revision of its pages; and it is hoped that they are now less undeserving, than they may have been, of the reader's approbation. Such, however, is my just awe of the intellect of Britain, that, after all my efforts for the improvement of my work, I dare only to solicit pardon for its defects, and not to prefer any claim to praise for its merits. If, indeed, the general suffrage of professional criticism in its favor, and its own extended circulation could make me confident of its worth, I might, possibly, with propriety assume a higher tone as its author. But I must attribute the regard, which it has experienced, to the affection of the public for Milton; and I must not receive an offering, made to my great subject, as the discharge of a debt due in any way to myself. The memory of a mighty man was assigned
to my protection : and, that I have not been unsuccessful in wresting it from the grasp of calumny, has been announced to me from every quarter, whence the voice could be the most grateful to my ear, and the most influencing on my judgment. I have not, as I will confess, entirely escaped the insults of petty warfare: but my assailants have been of a size beneath my notice; and their field of action has generally been in the foggy Boeotia of the Gentleman's Magazine. From the page which has defamed Pope, or from the pen of the historian of Bowyer I neither expect nor am solicitous of praise. When I can say that my “Life of Milton” was the favored companion of some of the last mortal hours of a CHARLES Fox; that, amid a cheering host of the illustrious living, it has been honored with the distinguishing plaudit of a SAMUEL PARR; and that it has obtained, in the great work * of this age and nation, the venerable sanction of an ABRAHAM REES, my very enemies will allow that I have enough to keep my heart from faltering, and to sustain my eye in its elevation under the discountenance of the Nicholses,
* The New Cyclopædia, &c.
the Aikins, and, those meanest paper-blotters of Grub Street, whose contaminating ink defiles equally the living and the dead*, the Watkinses of the day.
It has been objected to me, that I have been less the historian than the panegyrist of Milton, and not so intent upon truth as studious to obtrude virtues and to throw a veil over defects. In reply, I can affirm that I have sedulously sought materials wherever they could be found : that with these materials I have wrought faithfully under the uninfluenced direction of my judgment; and that, if a golden image, most unlike to the production of Johnson's dirty workshop, has sprung from their combination, the result must be ascribed to their own sterling metal, and not to the transmuting art of their combiner. If I have suggested any praise of my subject without authority sufficient for its support; if I have inferred upon weak premises, or have deduced false consequences, I am ready to submit to the charge which has been
* See the Life of R. B. Sheridan by J. Watkins, LL.D. and the latter half of the “ Dictionary of Living Authors," written by the same literary worthy!
brought against me. But to convict me of these offenses against the holiness of truth exceeds the power of my arraigners; and, till they can speak with the precision of fact, it will become them to abstain from the vagueness of assertion. My Milton, as I will confidently affirm before the world, is the Milton of authentic record ; defamed by his royalist contemporaries, and pursued with slanderous hate, even to the present age, by the same envenomed faction ; but destined to traverse posterity in his proper orb of light, and to shine with unabated lustre, when the Salmasiuses and the Johnsons shall be no otherwise remembered than as mists, exhaling from corruption, which darkened awhile beneath him; and then, overcome by his effulgence, were dissipated into viewless air.