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A lively desire of knowing and of recording our ancestors so generally prevails, that it must depend on the influence of some common principle in the minds of men.
We seem to have lived in the persons of our forefathers; it is the labour and reward of vanity to extend the term of this ideal longevity. Our imagination is always active to enlarge the narrow circle in which nature has confined us Fifty or an hundred years may be allotted to an individual; but we step forward beyond death with such hopes as religion and philosophy will suggest; and we fill up the silent vacancy that precedes our birth, by associating our: selves to the authors of our existence. Our calmer judgment will rather tend to moderate than to suppress the pride of an ancient and worthy race. The satirist may laugh, the philosopher may preach; but Reason herself will respect the prejudices and habits which have been consecrated by the experience of mankind. Few.there are who can sincerely despise in others an advantage of which they are secretly ambitious to partake. The knowledge of our own family from a remote period, will be always esteemed as an abstract pre-eminence, since it can never be promiscuously enjoyed; but the longest series of peasants and mechanics would not afford much gratification to the pride of their descendant. We wish to discover our ancestors, but we wish to discover them possessed of ample fortunes, adorned with honourable titles, and holding an eminent rank in the class of hereditary and never appears to have departed from that resolution, excepting in one of his letters annexed, in which he intimates a doubt, though rather carelessly, whether in his time, or at any time, they would meet the eye of the public. In a conversation, however, not long before his death, I suggested to him that, if he should make them a full image of his mind, he would not have nerves to publish them, and therefore that they should be posthumous: he answered, rather eagerly, that he was determined to publish them in his lifetime. S.
nobles, which has been maintained for the wisest and most beneficial purposes in almost every climate of the globe, and in almost every modification of political society.
Wherever the distinction of birth is allowed to formi a superior order in the state, education and example should always, and will often, produce among them a dignity of sentiment and propriety of conduct, which is guarded from dishonour by their own and the public esteem. If we read of some illustrious line so ancient that it has no beginning, so worthy that it ought to have no end, we sympathise in its various fortunes ; nor can we blame the generous enthusiasm, or even the harmless vanity, of those who are allied to the honours of its name. For my own part, could I draw my pedigree from a general, a statesman, or a celebrated author, I should study their lives with the diligence of filial love. In the investigation of past events our curiosity is stimulated by the immediate or indirect reference to ourselves; but in the estimate of honour we should learn to value the gifts of nature above those of fortune; to esteem in our ancestors the qualities that best promote the interests of society; and to pronounce the descendant of a king less truly noble than the offspring of a man of genius, whose writings will instruct or delight the latest posterity. The family of Confucius is, in my opinion, the most illustrious in the world. After a painful ascent of eight or ten centuries, our barons and princes of Europe are lost in the darkness of the middle ages; but in the vast equality of the empire of China, the posterity of Confucius have maintained above two thousand two hundred years their peaceful honours and perpetual succession. The chief of the family is still revered by the sovereign and the people, as the lively image of the wisest of mankind. The nobility of the Spencers has been illustrated and enriched by the trophies of Marlborough; but I exhort them to
consider the Fairy Queen* as the most precious jewel of their coronet. Our immortal Fielding was of the younger branch of the earls of Denbigh, who draw their origin from the counts of Habsburg, the lineal descendants of Eltrico, in the seventh century duke of Alsace. Far different have been the fortunes of the English and German divisions of the family of Habsburg : the former, the knights and sheriffs of Leicestershire, have slowly risen to the dignity of a peerage; the latter, the emperors of Germany and kings of Spain, have threatened the liberty of the old, and invaded the treasures of the new world. The successors of Charles the fifth may disdain their brethren of England; but the romance of Tom Jones, that exquisite picture of human manners, will outlive the palace of the Escurial, and the imperial eagle of the house of Austria.
That these sentiments are just, or at least natural, I am the more inclined to believe, as I am not myself interested in the cause ; for I can derive from my ancestors neither glory nor shame. Yet a sincere and simple narrative of my own life may amuse some of my leisure hours; but it will subject me, and perhaps with justice, to the imputation of vanity. I may judge, however, from the experience both of past and of the present times, that the public are always curious to know the men who have left behind them any image of their minds: the most scanty accounts of such men are compiled with diligence, and perused with eagerness; and the student of every class may derive a lesson, or an example, from the lives most similar to his own. My name may hereafter be placed among the thousand articles of a Biographia Britannica; and I must be conscious, that no one is so well
* No less praiseworthy are the ladies three,
The honour of that noble familie
SPENSER, Colin Clout, ac, v. 538.
qualified as myself to describe the series of my thoughts and 'actions. The authority of my masters, of the grave Thuanus and the philosophic Hume, might be sufficient to justify my design; but it would not be difficult to produce a long list of ancients and moderns, who, in various forms, have exhibited their own portraits, Such portraits are often the most interesting, and sometimes the only interesting parts of their writings; and if they be sincere, we seldom complain of the minuteness or prolixity of these personal me. morials. The lives of the younger Pliny, of Petrarch, and of Erasmus, are expressed in the epistles which they themselves have given to the world. The essays of Montaigne and sir William Tenple bring us home to the houses and bosoms of the authors : we smile without contempt at the headstrong passions of Benvenuto Cellini, and the gay follies of Colley Cibber. The confessions of St Augustin and Rousseau disclose the secrets of the human heart: the commentaries of the learned Huet have survived his evangelical demonstration; and the memoirs of Goldoni are more truly dramatic than his Italian comedies. The heretic and the churchman are strongly marked in the characters and fortunes of Whiston and bishop Newton; and even the dulness of Michael de Marolles and Anthony Wood acquires some value from the faithful representation of men and manners. That I am equal or superior to some of these, the effects of modesty or affectation cannot force me to dissemble.
My family is originally derived from the county of Kent. The southern district, which borders on Sussex and the
was formerly overspread with the great forest Anderida, and even now retains the denomination of the Weald, or Wood-land. In this district, and in the hundred and parish of Rolvenden, the Gibbons were possessed of lands in the year 1326 ; ,
and the elder branch of the family, without much in crease or diminution of property, still adheres to its native soil. Fourteen years after the first appearance of his name, John Gibbon is recorded as the marmorarius or architect of king Edward the third : the strong and stately castle of Queensborough, which guarded the entrance of the Medway, was a monument of his skill; and the grant of an hereditary toll on the passage from Sandwich to Stonar in the isle of Thanet, is the reward of no vulgar artist. In the visitations of the heralds the Gibbons are frequently mentioned: they held the rank of esquire in an age when that title was less promiscuously assumed: one of them, in the reign of queen Elizabeth, was captain of the militia of Kent; and a free school in the neighbouring town of Benenden proclaims the charity and opulence of its founder. But time, or their own obscurity, has cast a veil of oblivion over the virtues and vices of my Kentish ancestors; their character or station confined them to the labours and pleasures of a rural life; nor is in my power to follow the advice of the poet, in an inquiry after a name
“ Go! search it there, where to be born, and die,
Of rich and poor makes all the history,"so recent is the institution of our parish registers. In the beginning of the seventeenth century a younger branch of the Gibbons of Rolvenden migrated from the country to the city; and from this branch I do not blush to descend. The law requires some abilities, the church imposes some restraints; and before our army
and navy, our civil establishments, and Indian empire, had opened so many paths of fortune, the mercantile profession was more frequently chosen by youths of a liberal race and education, who aspired to create their own independence. Our most respectable families have not disdained the counting-house, or even the shop; their names are enrolled in the livery and companies of London; and in England, as well as