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But who can speak
EARLY two centuries have elapsed since Sir Walter Ralegh resigned his neck to the block, and bequeathed to posterity a singular example, with what cruelty a weak prince can sacrifice the life of a valuable subject.
Since that period, various speculations have been + formed
upon his character; and it may be questioned whether, amid the oblivion to which everything human is prone,
the idea of imposture attached to the knight by fome, and the times so inauspicious to literary leisure in which we live, his story shall at this day command any interest with mankind. At least, it will perhaps be said, no effort of genius and eloquerice must be wanting in him, who fall endeavour to recommend it at this day to the notice of the Public. What reception then, shall an unknown writer experience, who has no higher ambition than that of collecting his materials with diligence, and endeavouring to exhibit simple truth in a simple
garb? This question leads me to a brief explanation
inducements to the present undertaking.
Accidentally examining the labours of my predeceffors in this field, I found that Mr. William Oldys and Dr. Thomas Birch (the only ones entitled to notice), in the lives which they had prefixed, the former to his edition of Sir Walter's History of the World, in 1736, the latter to his collection of the knight's miscellaneous works, in 1751, had both failed of success in giving the best representation which existing materials afforded of the knight's story. Oldys, though a diligent and accurate collector of facts, appears to have been deficient in taste in the arrangement and display of them; while the conciseness of plan proposed to himself by Dr. Birch, did not allow him to do the knight justice, had he been so disposed.
In the fubsequent age of letters, some writer, we might have hoped had been found, to do this justice to one who deserved so well of his country. The celebrated Mr. Gibbon, however, is the only person I am acquainted with, who ever seriously contemplated the design; and, as he has himself informed us, he speedily relinquished Sir Walter's life for a more extensive theme. *
The knight's biography thus neglected, a feeling which the reader, to whatever principle he ascribes it, will not, I hope, condemn, made me anxious that the deficiency should be supplied. In the want then of an abler hand to undertake the task, aided by an opinion that I might employ the leisure which I occasionally enjoy from avocations of superior claim, less agreeably, and not more innocently, than in collecting and arranging the scattered parts of Sir Walter's story, the work has been my amusement during the last twelve months. The disposition which I think I have remarked in the present age, to discountenance false refinement in writing, induced me to hope that a simple, unadorned narrative (the only one for which I had capability, leisure, or inclination) would be no disparagement to a work, whose design should be otherwise approved. No story stands less in need of eloquence than Sir Walter's, though few deserve it more ; and the humblest narrative will raise, if it can gratify, curiosity.
Upon such a view as an author is able to take of his work when writing his Preface, I am apprehensive, that some of the original narratives of voyages, inserted in the life, may appear tedious ; and that a concise ab