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In sending forth this Collection of the Works of Mr. Sheridan, without the Life of the Author, by which it was to have been accompanied, it is but right to explain some of the reasons of such an omission to the public.
One of the chief causes of delay has been the absence from England of the person to whom the very difficult and delicate task of doing justice to the memory of this extraordinary man was entrusted. At a distance from all those living witnesses of his career, who alone can supply the means of tracing it fully and accurately, it may easily be imagined that
the formal duty of extracting information by written queries (even where correspondents were most exemplary in answering) has been found but a slow and meagre substitute for those oral communications, in which alone details are satisfactorily brought out; and in which, the memory of the relater becoming, as it were, gradually charged, the sparks of anecdote are always most freely and livelily elicited.
But, even if there had not existed this obstacle-if the writer still had remained in the midst of those facilities of information, which the kindness of Mr. Sheridan's most eminent cotemporaries would have afforded him, he should yet have thought it due both to himself and to the public not to precipitate, from any motives of immediate interest, a work to which so much
responsibility is attached; and in which, from the long political life of the individual who is the subject of it, events yet recent, and persons yet alive, must be discussed and characterised with a degree of freedom, which investigation and reflection alone can justify.
In attempting, indeed, such a memorial of one who has but just disappeared from among us—of whom all is remembered, both the evil and the good, and whose fame has not yet undergone that purifying process, by which Time removes such light and casual spots, as may have fallen upon the shining names selected to adorn his annals—the biographer has a task of no common difficulty to perform. Whatever advantages he may possess in the freshness and authenticity of his materials, derived either from personal knowledge, or the
many living sources to which he can refer, are heavily counterbalanced by that multitude of opinions and prejudices—still actively surviving the object of their variance-which he has to encounter and consult both in seeking and speaking the truth. In many instances, too, he finds the memory, which he would wish to honour (as Cicero found the tomb of Archimedes,“ septum vepribus et dumetis”) beset with imputations which, however trifling, disfigure its grandeur, and which the hand of oblivion alone can gently and effectually clear away.
There are also, perhaps, some further reasons why, in sketching the portraits of distinguished men, a biographer should not be too near his subjects. What he gains in minuteness and precision of detail, he may lose in the general effect of