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TO THE FIRST EDITION 1804.
HE difficulty experienced by the Editor
in understanding many of the allusions contained in the following poems, gave rise to the present work. In the attempt to obviate this difficulty, he was obliged to wade through some hundred volumes, mostly of a local or political nature, and consequently now either very scarce, or quite neglected and forgotten: from these and other works in more general circulation, he principally collected the substance of the notes he now offers to the public; while for some of them, consisting of original anecdotes, he is indebted to oral tradition, and to an intimate acquaintance with several of the friends and contemporaries of the poet.
The highest praise to which a work of this kind can aspire, is that of diligence and impartiality; and if an earnest endeavour to deserve that praise merits indulgence, the Editor lays claim to it as the only exculpatory plea he has to offer, for thus adding to the weight under which the shelves of our libraries already groan. So little anxious is he to appear before the public, that he can with sincerity declare, that had he known of any competent person engaged in the same undertaking, he would
willingly have presented him with all his materials, together with the best information, and assistance in his power.
The greater portion of the few hours the Editor could spare from the pursuits of a laborious profession, has been devoted to this work; to him they have been hours of recreation and instruction, and if they can afford either the one or the other to those for whose benefit they were employed, he will, in his humble commentating line, feel that satisfaction which the approbation of the public must always impart.
Partial to the merits of his favorite poet, the Editor flatters himself that his present attempt may contribute to restore to Churchill's name, some of that popularity and celebrity which it once possessed. It is needless to remark that at the period of their first publication, his works required no comments, he, in imitation of Dryden, so accurately depicted the objects of his indignation, as to render any key unnecessary, until time and death had thrown a shade over their actions and their names.
The Editor was encouraged to prosecute his undertaking by meeting with the following observation in Dr. Kippis's Life of Churchill in the Biographia Britannica : “perhaps nothing will revive the memory of our author's poems, so as to cause them again to be generally read, excepting a new edition with notes fully explaining the satirical and historical allusions,
this was what Mr. Churchill himself before his decease wished to be done. In his Will is the following passage :-I desire my dear friend John Wilkes, Esq. to collect and publish my works, with the remarks and explanations he has prepared, and any others he thinks proper to make.”
On application, in consequence of this request to the Executors of the late Mr. Wilkes, it was found that he left no such manuscript behind him, though on the publication of each of Churchill's poems, he had a copy bound and interleaved with writing paper, in which, for reasons best known to himself, he never wrote a single line.
Dr. Kippis thus proceeds :-“Whether Mr. Wilkes will ever have leisure to comply with this request we are not able to say. Perhaps the time is not yet arrived for taking away the veil from certain objects; and perhaps it may never be desirable to revive party matters, which, though not sunk into oblivion, have happily ceased to inflame the passions of the mind.”
At this distance of time the Editor sees no reason for apprehending that the revival of the poet's fame can in any way tend to excite a renewal of political differences, the causers and causes of which no longer exist; other and more important subjects of discussion have arisen in the intervening period of forty years, and the Editor trusts that his notes will be
found free from that leaven of party malevolence with which the text is too often tinctured.
It has been his anxious wish to elucidate only the particulars in the public conduct of the persons censured by the satirist, and to abstain from all notice of their private vices or follies, except in some instances too notorious to escape direct animadversion. Should he appear to have been misinformed as to the character of any particular individual, he will only have to lament his credulity : for to wilful misrepresentation or undue partiality, he can, without hesitation, declare himself to be an utter stranger.
His authorities the Editor has not often given, they are generally of a nature not calculated intrinsically to convey an impression of authenticity. In gleaning from the magazines, pamphlets, and newspapers of the day, the Editor could only be induced from concurrent testimonies to select such anecdotes as seemed best entitled to credit, and to submit them to the judgment of the public.
Long before the press teemed with new editions of inferior poets, the present Editor undertook the illustration of Churchill; his materials had lain by for some years when the publication of his work was accelerated by the obliging kindness of Mr. Flexney, the original publisher of the Poet's Works, and who being in possession of several MSS. relating to the Life and writings of the Satirist, in the handwriting of the Rev. William Churchill, his
brother, * communicated them to the Editor. The spirit of party had not subsided at the time they were written, and they were unfortunately too strongly imbued with that spirit, to render them of much utility. Some novel and interesting particulars however have been extracted from them, and the Editor flatters himself that, he has not been deficient in an assiduous endeavour to procure every possible information respecting his author.
Having detailed his sources of information, and his motives for publication, the Editor submits his work to the indulgence of the public. His name, unknown in the world of letters, could give no sanction to his work, and he sees no reason for incurring the risk of censure, where excellence could not confer fame; he therefore does not obtrude his name upon the public, though he by no means wishes to be considered as screening himself from responsibility, while he only seeks a shield against the attacks of petulance or malignity.
* The Rev. W. Churchill was brought up with his brother at Westminster School, where he was class-fellow with Christopher Smart, and Bonnel Thornton. He was an amiable man of
very reserved and unobtrusive manners, and would probably never have emerged from the humble sphere of a country curate, but that late in life, his uncle, the Bishop of St. Asaph, presented him to the rectory of Orton on the Hill, in the county of Leicester, where he died in June, 1804, in the seventy-second year of his age.