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TO THE READER.
THE late Mr. Burke, from a principle of unaffected humility, which they, who were the most intimately acquainted with his character, best know to have been in his estimation one of the most important moral duties, never himself made any collection of the various publications with which, during a period of forty years, he adorned and enriched the literature of this country. When, however, the rapid and unexampled demand for his “ Reflexions on the Revolution of France,” had unequivocally testified his celebrity as a writer, some of his friends so far prevailed upon him, that he permitted them to put forth a regular edition of his works. Accordingly, three volumes in quarto appeared under that title in 1792, printed for the late Mr. Dodsley. That edition, therefore, has been made the foundation of the present, for which a form has been chosen better adapted to publick convenience. Such errours of the press as have been discovered in it are here rectified : in other respects it is faithfully followed, except that in one instance, an accident of little moment has occasioned a slight deviation from the strict chronological arrangement ; and that on the other hand, a speech of conspicuous excellence, on his declining the poll at Bristol, in 1780, is here, for the first time, inserted in its proper place.
As the activity of the Author’s mind, and the lively interest which he took in the welfare of his country, ceased only with his life, many subsequent productions issued from his pen, which were received in a manner corresponding with his distinguished reputation. He wrote also various tracts, of a less popular description, which he designed for private circulation, in quarters where he supposed they might produce most benefit to the community; but which, with some other papers, have been printed since his death, from copies which he left behind him fairly transcribed, and most of them corrected as for the press. All these, now first collected together, form the contents of the last volume. They are disposed in chronological order, with the exception of the Preface to Brissot's Address, which having appeared in the Author's life-time, and from delicacy not being avowed by him, did not come within the plan of this edition, but has been placed at the end of the last volume, on its being found deficient in just bulk.
The several posthumous publications, as they from time to time made their appearance, were accompanied by appropriate prefaces. These, however, as they were principally intended for temporary purposes, have been omitted. Some few explanations only, which they contained, seem here to be necessary.
The “Observations on the Conduct of the Minority “ in the Session of 1793,” had been written and sent by Mr. Burke as a paper entirely and strictly confidential ; but it crept surreptitiously into the world, through the fraud and treachery of the man whom he had employed to transcribe it, and, as usually happens in such cases, came forth in a very mangled state, under a false title, and without the introductory letter. The friends of the Author, without waiting to consult him, instantly obtained an injunction from the Court of Chancery to stop the sale. What he himself felt, on receiving intelligence of the injury done him by one, from whom his kindness deserved a very different return, will be best conveyed in his own words. The following is an extract of a letter to a friend, which he dictated on this subject from a sick bed. Bath, 15th Feb. 1797. “My DeAR LAURENCE,
“ON the appearance of the advertisement, all newspapers, and all letters have been kept back from me till this time. Mrs. Burke opened your’s, and finding that all the measures in the power of Dr. King, yourself, and Mr. Woodford, had been taken to suppress the publication, she ventured to deliver me the letters to-day, which were read to me in my bed,
about two o'clock. “This affair does vex me; but I am not in a state of health at present to be deeply vexed at any thing. Whenever this matter comes into discussion, I authorize you to contradict the infamous reports, which (I am informed) have been given out; that this paper had been circulated through the Ministry, and was intended gradually to slide into the press. To the best of my recollection, I never had a clean copy of it but one, which is new in my possession; I never communicated that, but to the Duke of Portland, from whom I had it back again. But the Duke will set this matter to rights, if in reality there were two copies, and he has one. I never shewed it, as they know, to any one of the Ministry. If the Duke has really a copy, I believe his and mine are the only ones that exist, except what was taken by fraud from loose and incorrect papers by S , to whom I gave the letter to copy. As soon as I began to suspect him capable of any such scandalous breach of trust, you know with what anxiety I got the loose papers out of his hands, not having reason to think that he kept any other. Neither do I believe in fact (unless he meditated this villainy long ago) that he did or does now possess any clean copy. I never communicated that paper to any one out of the very small circle of those private friends, from whom I concealed nothing. “But I beg you and my friends to be cautious how you let it be understood, that I disclaim any thing but the mere act and intention of publication. I do not retract any one of the sentiments contained in that Memorial, which was and is my justification, addressed to the friends, for whose use alone I intended it. Had I designed it for the publick, I should have been more exact and full. It was written in a tone of indignation, in consequence of the resolutions of the Whig Club, which were directly pointed against myself and others, and occasioned our secession from that Club ; which is the last act of my life that I shall under any circumstances repent. Many temperaments and explanations there would have been, if I had ever had a notion that it should meet the publick eye.” In the mean time a large impression, amounting, it is believed, to three thousand copies, had been dispersed over the country. To recall these was impossible ; to have expected that any acknowledged production of Mr. Burke, full of matter likely to interest the future historian, could remain for ever in obscurity, would have been folly ; and to have passed it over in silent neglect, on the one hand, or, on the other, to have then made any considerable changes in it, might have seemed an abandonment of the principles which it contained. The Author, therefore, dis