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BY JOHN FINLAY, ESQ.
The Speeches of PHILLIPS are now for the first time offered to the world in an authentic form. So far as his exertions have been hitherto developed, his admirers, and they are innumerable, must admit, that the text of this volume is an acknowledged reference, to which future criticism may fairly resort, and from which his friends must deduce any title which the speaker may have created to the character of an orator.
The interests of his reputation impose no necessity of denying many of those imperfections which have been imputed to these productions. The value of all human exertion is comparative; and positive excellence is but a flattering designation, even of the best products of industry and mind.
There is, perhaps, but one way by which we could avoid all possible defects, and that is, by avoiding all possible exertion. The very fastidious, and the very uncharitable, may too often be met with, in the class of the indolent; and the man of talent is generally most liberal in his censure, whose industry has given him least title to praise. Thus defects and detraction are as the spots and shadow which, of necessity, adhere and attach to every objectof honourable toil. Were it possible for the friends of Mr. Phillips to select those defects which could fill up the measure of unavoidable imperfection, and at the same time inflict least injury on his reputation, doubtless they would prefer the blemishes and errors natural to youth, consonant to genius, and consistent with an obvious and ready correction. To this description, we apprehend, may be reduced all the errors that have been imputed through a system of wide-spreading and unwearied criticism, anımated by that envy with which indolence too oft regards the success of industry and talent, and subsidized by power in its struggle to repress the reputation and importance of a rapidly rising young man, whom it had such good reason both to hate and fear. For it would be ignorance not to know, and knowing, it would be affectation to conceal, that his political principles were a drawback on his reputation; and that the dispraise of these speeches has been a discountable quantity for the promotion of placemen and the procurement of place.
This system of depreciation thus powerfully wielded, even to the date of the present publication, failed not in its energy, though it has in its object; nay, more; it has succeeded in procuring for him the beneficial results of a multiplying reaction. To borrow the expression of an eminent classic, “the rays of their indignation collected upon him, served to illumine, but could not consume;" and doubtless, this hostility may have promoted this fact, that the materials of this volume are at this moment read in all the languages of Europe ; and whatever be the proportion of their merits to their faults, they are unlikely to escape the attention of posterity.
The independent reader, whom this book may introduce to a first or more correct acquaintance with his eloquence, will therefore be disposed to protect his mind against these alliberal prepossessions thus actively diffused, on the double consideration that some deLects are essential to such and so much labour, and that some detraction may justiy be accounted for by the motives of the system whose vices he exposed. The same reader, if he had not the opportunity of hearing these speeches delivered by the author, will make in his favour another deduction for a different reason.