SOME few words are necessary by way of explanation, in submitting the present volume to the reader. It is enough to state, as regards its object, that a wish was conveyed to his family by certain of the late Mr. Barham’s friends, and through them by many also who knew him only from his writings, that a collection should be made of the remaining ‘INGOLDSBY LEGENDS,’ and printed uniformly with the first and second Series, and that at the same time a more complete Memoir of his Life should be prefixed than any that had hitherto appeared in the public prints. Such a request was of course entitled to every attention; the more so, as it came strongly backed by the judgment of the gentleman who proposed to undertake the publication in question.
It may, perhaps, be questioned whether, under any circumstances, a very near relative is a fit person to fill the office of Biographer: independently of the prepossession by which he must almost necessarily be swayed, and of the restraint which a consciousness of its existence induces, expressions both of eulogy and the reverse seem to fall ungracefully from his pen. The writer has no immunity to plead in the present instance from the effects of this law. There were considerations, however, which precluded his entrusting the task to another; among the most weighty of which was an unwillingness to submit correspondence and memoranda, written with that unguarded openness for which Mr. Barham was remarkable, to the eye of a third person; the unavoidable exposure indeed of matters of confidence, of which he was the depositary, would have rendered it highly improper to do so.
There are two classes of readers, in particular, to whom this imperfect sketch will doubtless prove unsatisfactory; those who may take it up in the expectation of finding a budget of confidential letters, and private anecdotes of the gifted individuals still living, with whom it was the lot of its subject to be associated; and those who may desire a more regular and detailed biography, and who may be apt to consider the following pages of too uncoanected and too light a character to answer to the title which they bear. For the first of these we have no answer; but we would entreat the second bear in mind, that it is only in a literary point of view only as a poet, whose wit and origin ality attracted no ordinary notice — only, in short, as ‘Thomas Ingoldsby,’ that Mr. Barham is brought before the public at all; and it is to these traits of character that we have been mainly confined, as being alone of sufficient general interest to demand or bear illustration.
On the other hand, should it be urged that the poetical trifles here appended are not of a quality to advance the author’s reputation, we must reply, at the risk of being taxed with a tendency to argue in a circle, that a reputation of the kind was not an object of his ambition. To say that he was indifferent to applause and censure, would be to invest him with a degree of stoicism which he was among the last either to profess or feel; but the fact of all his productions having appeared either anonymously or pseudonymously, is sufficient to show tbat he possessed no inordinate craving after fame. Writing, in a word, was to him an amusement, the more agreeable if it chanced to conduce to that of others. It is in a similar spirit that the present collection is laid before the public: and a hope is entertained that it may not altogether do discredit to the partiality of those at whose suggestion it has been made.
Most of these poems have been previously published in various periodicals; some few are now printed for the first time. In the selection of the former, which are of an evanescent character, for the most part bearing upon the gossip of the day, attention has almost of necessity been paid more to the comparative notoriety of the subject than to the degree of humour evinced in the performance.
There remains, in conclusion, but to express a hope that no one will feel aggrieved by the appearance of any of the historiettes, &c., which have been inserted; the great variety of amusing matter of this kind contained in Mr. Barham’s memoranda, furnished perpetual temptations to transgress; how they have been resisted it is for others to decide. The anecdotes recorded of living persons are few in number, and refer principally to men raised by their genius above the common level of society, and who, as a necessary condition to the eminence they enjoy, must be content to dispense with much of that privilege of privacy which their less distinguished brethren have a right to claim; it is a kind of quit-rent of popularity which they are doubtless not indisposed to pay.
R. H. D. Barham.
Nov. 17th, 1847.
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