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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 compofitions. I had to guard, not only against a fentiment 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 relick, 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 coinpetent, from their judgment, to protect it.
Under such a fanction it is, that, no longer suspecting myself to view through too favorable 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 these Volumes..
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, but there is reason to believe that the most copious was the last. From all these the followa ing Memoirs have been carefully selected, and put together. 1
[v] My hesitation in giving these Memoirs to the world arose, principally, from the circumstance of Mr. Gibbon's appearing, in some respect, not to have been satisfied with them, as he had so frequently varied their form: yet, notwithstanding this diffidence, the compositions, though unfinished, are so excellent, that they may justly entitle my Friend to appear as his own biographer, rather than to have that talk undertaken by any other person less qualified for it.
This opinion has rendered me anxious to publish the present Memoirs, without any unnecessary delay; for I am persuaded, that the Author of them cannot be made to appear in a truer light than he does in the following pages. In them, and in his different Letters, which I have added, will be found a complete picture of his talents, his difposition , his studies, and his attainments.
Those flight variations of character, which naturally arose in the progress of his Life, will be anfolded in a series of Letters, selected from a Core respondence between him and myself, which con, tinued fully thirty years, and ended with his death. .
It is to be lamented, that all the sketches of the Memoirs, except that composed in the form of Annals, and which seems rather designed as heads