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literary point of view. But, in other respects, it was considered I might bring some advantages to this undertaking, one of no ordinary difficulty, and requiring no common care and circumspection to surmount. The facilities I refer to, are those arising from peculiar opportunities of knowing Lady Blessington at an early period of that literary career which it is intended to illustrate, and becoming acquainted with the antecedents of that position in literature which she occupied in London.
The correspondence and other papers of Lady Blessington that have been made use of in these volumes, are connected by a slender thread of biographical illustration, which may serve to give some idea of the characters and position, and . prominent traits or peculiarities of those who are addressed, or referred to in this correspondence, or by whom letters were written which are noticed in it.
In doing this, I trust it will be found I am not unmindful of the obligations I am under to truth and charity, as well as to friendship, obligations to the living as well as to the dead; but, on the contrary, that I am very sensible, that literature is never more profaned, than when such claims being forgotten, sentiments expressed in confidence to private persons that are calculated to hurt the feelings, or to injure the character of individuals, are wantonly, malevolently, or inconsiderately disclosed.
Such opinions seem to have been acted on by a late emi. nent statesman, and were well expressed, in a codicil to his will, wherein he bequeathed to Lord Mahon and E. Cardwell, Esq., M.P., “all the unpublished papers and documents of a public or a private nature, whether in print or in manuscript, of which he should, at the time of his decease, be possessed, &c.” “Considering that the collection of letters and papers, referred to in this codicil. included the whole of his confidential correspondence for a period extending from the
year 1817 to the time of his decease, that during a considerable portion of that period he was employed in the service of the crown, and that when not so employed, he had taken an active part in parliamentary business, it was highly probable that much of that correspondence would be interesting, and calculated to throw light upon the conduct and character of public men, and upon the political events of the times.” This was done in the full assurance that his trustees would so exercise the discretion given to them, that no honourable confidence should be betrayed, no private feelings be unnecessarily wounded, and no public interests injuriously affected.
I think it is Sir Egerton Brydges who observes—“ It is not possible to love literature and to be uncharitable or unkind to those who follow its pursuits.” Nothing would certainly be more uncharitable and unkind to literary people than to publish what they may occasionally say in private of one another in the way of raillery, banter, or persiflage, as if such badinage on paper, and escapades of sarcastic drollery in conversation, were deliberate expressions of opinion; and not the smartness of the sayings, but the sharpness of the sting in them, was to be taken into account in judging of the motives of those who gave utterance to things spoken in levity and not in malice.
There is no necessity, indeed, with such materials as I have in my hands, to encumber my pages with any trivialities of this kind, or the mere worthless tittle-tattle of epistolary conversation.
There is an abundance of thought-treasure in letters of people of exalted intellect, in this collection; ample merits in their accounts of passing events, their references to current literature—the works of art of the day, the chances and changes of political life, the caprices of fashion of the time, and the vicissitudes in the fortune of the celebrities of all grades in a great city—to furnish matter well worthy of selection and preservation ; matter that would perish if not thus collected, and published in some such form as the present.
I have no sympathies with the tastes and pursuits of the hangers-on of men of genius in literary society, who crawl into the confidence of people of exalted intellect, to turn their acquaintance with it to a profitable account; to drag into notice failings that may have hitherto escaped attention, or were only suspected to exist, and to immortalize the errors of gifted individuals, whose credulity has been taken advantage of, with a deliberate purpose of speculating on those failings that have been diligently observed and drawn out.
Censure, it is said, is the tax which eminence of every kind pays for distinction. The tendency of our times especially, is to pander to a morbid taste, that craves continually for signal spectacles of failings and imperfections of persons in exalted stations, for exhibitions of eminent people depreciated or defamed. The readiness of men to minister to the
prevailing appetite for literary gossip, by violating the sanctity of private life, and even the sacred ties of friendship, is not only to be lamented, but the crime is to be denounced. I have given expressions to such opinions on those subjects at the onset of my career in literature, and they have undergone no change since the publication of them, upwards of twenty years ago.
We naturally desire to know every thing that concerns the character, or the general conduct of those, whose productions have entertained or instructed us; and we gratify a laudable curiosity, when, for purposes of good, we inquire into their history, and seek to illustrate their writings, by the general tenor of their lives and actions. But when biography is made the vehicle of private scandal, the means of promoting
* The Infirmities of Genius, &c., in 2 vols. 8vo., London, 1833.
sordid interests, when it looks into every infirmity of human nature through a medium, which magnifies small imperfections, and exaggerates large ones ;—it ceases to be a legitimate inquiry into private character or conduct, and no infamy is greater than the baseness of revealing faults that possibly had never been discovered, had no friendship been violated, and no confidence abused.
“Consider,” says a learned German, “under how many aspects greatness is scrutinized ; in how many categories curiosity may be traced, from the highest grade of inquisitiveness down to the most impertinent, concerning great men! How the world never wearies striving to represent to itself their whole structure, conformation outward and inward. Blame not the world for such curiosity about its great ones : this comes of the world's old-established necessity to worship. Blame it not, pity it rather with a certain loving respect. Nevertheless, the last stage of human perversion, it has been said, is, when sympathy corrupts itself into envy, and the indestructible interest we take in men's doings has become a joy over their faults and misfortunes; this is the last and lowest stage_lower than this we cannot go.”
“Lower than this we cannot go !” says the German moralist. But suppose we do more than exult in these failings and misfortunes ; that we not only sit in judgment on them, but judge not justly, using false weights and measures of justice, having one scale and standard of judicial opinion for the strong and the unscrupulous, in evil doing, and another for the weak and ill-directed and unfortunately circumstanced; lower then I say men can go in the downward path of hypocrisy, when those most deserving of pity have more to fear from pretenders to virtue, than from religion itself. We are told by a great writer, that at the tribunal of public opinion, there are some failings for which there must be an acquittal on every count of the indictment, or a condemnation on all.
It is not for the world to make any inquiries into the antecedents of such failings, whether they included the results of an unhappy home, the tyranny, profligacy, profusion and embarrassments of an unworthy father, the constant spectacle of the griefs and wrongs of an injured mother, mournful scenes of domestic strife, of violence and outrage, riotous displays of revelry and carousing in the same abode; everyday morning gloom and wrangling, temporary shifts to meet inordinate expenses, tending to eventual ruin ; meannesses to be witnessed to postpone an inevitable catastrophe, and miserable shifts to be had recourse to in order to provide for the carousing of another night; the feasting of military friends, of condescending lords and squireen gentlemen of high rank and influence, justices of the peace of fiery zeal in provincial politics, men of mark in a country town, ever ready to partake of hospitality, and to enjoy society, set off with such advantages as beauty, and mirth, and gaiety unrestricted can lend to it.
It is not for the world to inquire into the circumstance that may have led to an unhappy union, or its unfortunate result; whether the home was happy, the society that frequented the parental abode was safe and suitable for its young inmates; whether the father's example was edifying in his family—the care of his children was sufficient for their security-whether he watched over his daughters, as an anxious father should do, and treated them with kindness and affection, bearing himself quietly and amiably towards their mother and themselves; whether their youth and innocence were surrounded with religious influences, and the moral atmosphere in which they lived from childhood and grew up to womanhood, was pure and wholesome ?
It matters not, in such a worldly point of view, in the consideration of such results, whether their peace and happiness were made things of sale and barter by a worthless father!