Diary of a Lover of Literature - PREFACE.

PREFACE.


            At length, after much hesitation, and in an evil hour perhaps, I am induced to submit to the indulgence of the public, the idlest work, probably, that ever was composed; but, I could wish to hope, not absolutely the most unentertaining or unprofitable.

            For the errors and defects naturally incident to a composition successively exhibiting the impressions of the moment in the language which the moment prompted, and which must derive any interest it may possess from the ease and freedom with which these impressions are communicated, it would be fruitless and absurd to attempt an apology. That remarks, hastily made, will sometimes prove unfounded; that first views of an author's meaning and spirit, will occasionally be erroneous; that references, suddenly set down amidst the instant pressure of other matter, and, not always open to subsequent revision, will now and then be incorrect; and that expressions, eagerly seized on the exigency of the occasion, will here and there appear too daring, and frequently uncouth—these, and topics of extenuation such as these, must spontaneously suggest themselves to every Reader: and as the just allowances, on these accounts, will cheerfully be made by every candid mind, so with none but the candid can I expect that any excuses I could offer on the subject would avail to obtain them. For faults of every other description, and for more than a due proportion of these, I feel that I am strictly accountable; and present myself before the Audience whose attention I have presumed to engage with my babble, under an appalling sense of the responsibility which my rashness has incurred.

            To the objector, who should fiercely demand, why I obtruded on the public at all, matter confessedly so crude and so peccant,—I have really little to allege which is quite satisfactory to my own mind, or which I could reasonably hope, therefore, would prove so to his: but to an offended spirit of a gentler nature, I might perhaps be allowed to intimate, that, whatever my faults may be, I have not attempted to decoy unwary readers by an imposing title, nor to tax their curiosity with the costly splendours of fashionable typography. It has been my earnest wish, at least, to obviate disappointment, by accommodating, as much as possible, my appearance to my pretensions. These are simple, and of easy statement. To furnish occupation, in a vacant hour, to minds imbued with a relish for literary pursuits, by suggesting topics for reflection and incentives for research, partly from an exhibition of whatever struck me as most interesting in the thoughts of others, during a miscellaneous course of reading, and partly, too, from a free and unreserved communication of the thoughts they gave rise to in my own mind—this is all that I venture to propose to the Reader as my aim in the publication of the following Extracts: and if, in the prosecution of this purpose, I should be so happy as to conciliate that good will which is not unlikely to result from the tolerable execution of such a design, I shall fully have accomplished everything, so far as an author's feelings are concerned, to which my ambition, or my vanity (if it must be so), aspires.

            With respect to my success in this adventure, if I am not generally very sanguine, there are certain moments—under the encouraging influence of a balmy air, bright sky, and vigorous digestion—in which I am not altogether without hope. When I advert, it is true, to the numerous faults that deform the following pages, all crowding in hideous succession before me—when I reflect on the various improvements of which the whole would be susceptible, even under my own mature revisal—above all, when I compute what brighter talents and ampler attainments might have achieved in a similar career—my heart, oppressed with the load of my infirmities, sinks in despondency within me: but when I consider, on the other hand, the wretched trash with which the public is sometimes apparently content to be amused, my spirits, in a slight degree, revive; I cannot disguise, from myself, that I am at least entitled to equal indulgence with some of these candidates for public favour; and in the momentary elation of this ignoble triumph, am tempted to anticipate a reception, which however moderate and subdued for an illusion of the fancy, may perhaps prove ridiculously flattering compared with the actual doom that awaits me.

            Though the substance of my Journal is merely literary, other matter occasionally occurs; and perhaps I ought to notice here, from its bulk, what I have purposely neglected proclaiming in the title, from its quality—the notes, I mean, taken on different excursions through the picturesque parts of this island. They are certainly slight and superficial; and though they recall very distinct images, and are associated with many delightful sensations, in my own mind, are little likely, I fear, to afford much gratification to the general reader. Those who have visited the same, scenes, or who propose to visit them, may possibly derive some pleasure from their perusal:—and, at all events, as the die is cast (though I sometimes wish it back again), they must now pass muster, and take their chance, with the rest.

            The following sheets are, of course, only a sample, though a pretty large one, of a more considerable work:—but the purchaser of the present Volume (I hasten to add) need not be alarmed. I cannot flatter myself that the materials for a future selection, are eminently better than those from which I have thus far drawn; and with the present extracts I am so little satisfied, on a review of them in print, that unless they should experience the most unequivocal symptoms of public favour, they are the last that will appear. An idle experiment, however unsuccessful, may be good-naturedly excused; but to persist.in a piece of folly of this kind, after a fair warning that it is such, would betray an unpardonable disregard of what is due, on the occasion, both to public feeling and my own character.

 

Ipswich. April the 20th, 1810.

 

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