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OF MEN OF
Learning and Genius,
GREAT - BRITAIN AND IRELAND,
DURING THE THREE LAST CENTURIES.
INDICATIVE OF THEIR
MANNERS, OPINIONS, HABITS, AND PECULIARITIES,
INTERSPERSED WITH REFLECTIONS,
Historical and Literary Illustrations.
BY JOHN WATKINS, LL. D.
albion Press :
PRINTED FOR JAMES CUNDEE, IVY-LANE,
BIOGRAPHY, since the days of Plutarch, has assumed a great variety of forms. It has frequently been expanded by metaphysical and political disquisition :-sometimes it has swelled out beyond its proper limits into general History ;---und too often, especially in our own times
, has it, been made an apology for errors, and the vehicle of immorality and licentiousness, as well in principle as in practice.
But one of the worst, and yet one of the most common faults in Biographers, has been the misrepresentation of the real characters of the persons whose memoirs they have given, arising from a high admiration of their perform
Hence it is, that Biography, in general, is little better than panegyrick, and while we are endeavouring to become acquainted with “ men like ourselves,” in regard to their moral qualities, we are presented with beings of a superiour degree, if not indeed, of a preternatural order.
One intent, therefore, of this species of writing, and that the most essential to the interests of truth and virtue, has been lost, that of setting before posterity beacons to warn, or eramples to imitate.
When the French ambassador visited the illustrious Bacon in his last illness, and found him in bed, with the curtains drawn, he addressed this fulsome compliment to him: “ You are like the angels, of whom we hear and read much, but have not the pleasure of seeing them.”--The reply was the sentiment of a philosopher, and the language of a Christian---" if the complaisance of others compares me to an angel, my infirmities tell me I am a man."
Thus Biography, to be useful, must be a faithful representation of infirmities as well as of excellencies; it must particularize not only the efforts of genius, but the actions
of life. It is not sufficient to inform us what great men have performed on the theatre of the world, but how they conversed, and what was their deportment in the circle of domestick society. Such a representation of them requires the relation of minute circumstances connected with the ordinary orcurrences of human life: and the opening to the reader their correspondence and conversation, their familiar habits and most retired privacies. It is thus only that Biography can be of practical use, for the great end of moral and intellectual improvement.
This has been the principal aim in the compilation of the present volume: in which the delineation of literary character is but an outline sketch, while the main endeavour has been to give a correct picture of the mind and the manner, the disposition and the habits of the man.
From a variety of sources, the best and most authentick anecdotes have been carefully selected, and so disposed, as to exhibit the genuine characters of persons of the greatest literary eminence of our nation during the three preceding, centuries. Subordinately, and in the notes, are scattered many circumstances of other distinguished persons, which will, it is hoped, serve the purpose of entertainment, if not of illustration.
The compiler, for to a higher title he has no pretension, is aware that he has only gleaned a small part of a very extensive, and a very fruitful field. Should, however, his present attempt to make Biography more faithful and amusing, meet with publick approbation, it may encourage him to further exertions.
LONDON, DECEMBER 1, 1807.
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ONE of the greatest men, in all respects, in that age, which has been denominated, with equal propriety, the Age of the Reformation, and that of the revival of Letters, was Sir Thomas More, the friend of Erasmus, and the victim of a sanguinary tyrant's caprice and cruelty.
He was the only son of Sir John More, knight, one of the judges of the court of King's Bench, and was born in Milk-street, London, in 1480. While a boy he was admitted into the house of Cardinal Morton, archbishop of Canterbury; for it was a wise custom of that age to place the sons of noblemen and gentlemen of the first respectability in the families of bishops and other great persons, where they might acquire not only a knowledge of all useful learning, but profit by the advice and example of their patrons. This custom seems to have been adopted from the Ro