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Review Of The Account Of The Conduct Of The Dutchess Of Marlborough
by [?]

The universal regard, which is paid by mankind to such accounts of publick transactions as have been written by those who were engaged in them, may be, with great probability, ascribed to that ardent love of truth, which nature has kindled in the breast of man, and which remains even where every other laudable passion is extinguished. We cannot but read such narratives with uncommon curiosity, because we consider the writer as indubitably possessed of the ability to give us just representations, and do not always reflect, that, very often, proportionate to the opportunities of knowing the truth, are the temptations to disguise it.

Authors of this kind have, at least, an incontestable superiority over those whose passions are the same, and whose knowledge is less. It is evident that those who write in their own defence, discover often more impartiality, and less contempt of evidence, than the advocates which faction or interest have raised in their favour.

It is, however, to be remembered, that the parent of all memoirs, is the ambition of being distinguished from the herd of mankind, and the fear of either infamy or oblivion, passions which cannot but have some degree of influence, and which may, at least, affect the writer’s choice of facts, though they may not prevail upon him to advance known falsehoods. He may aggravate or extenuate particular circumstances, though he preserves the general transaction; as the general likeness may be preserved in painting, though a blemish is hid or a beauty improved.

Every man that is solicitous about the esteem of others, is, in a great degree, desirous of his own, and makes, by consequence, his first apology for his conduct to himself; and when he has once deceived his own heart, which is, for the greatest part, too easy a task, he propagates the deceit in the world, without reluctance or consciousness of falsehood.

But to what purpose, it may be asked, are such reflections, except to produce a general incredulity, and to make history of no use? The man who knows not the truth cannot, and he who knows it, will not tell it; what then remains, but to distrust every relation, and live in perpetual negligence of past events; or, what is still more disagreeable, in perpetual suspense?

That by such remarks some incredulity is, indeed, produced, cannot be denied; but distrust is a necessary qualification of a student in history. Distrust quickens his discernment of different degrees of probability, animates his search after evidence, and, perhaps, heightens his pleasure at the discovery of truth; for truth, though not always obvious, is generally discoverable; nor is it any where more likely to be found than in private memoirs, which are generally published at a time when any gross falsehood may be detected by living witnesses, and which always contain a thousand incidents, of which the writer could not have acquired a certain knowledge, and which he has no reason for disguising.

Such is the account lately published by the dutchess of Marlborough, of her own conduct, by which those who are very little concerned about the character which it is principally intended to preserve or to retrieve, may be entertained and instructed. By the perusal of this account, the inquirer into human nature may obtain an intimate acquaintance with the characters of those whose names have crowded the latest histories, and discover the relation between their minds and their actions. The historian may trace the progress of great transactions, and discover the secret causes of important events. And, to mention one use more, the polite writer may learn an unaffected dignity of style, and an artful simplicity of narration.

The method of confirming her relation, by inserting, at length, the letters that every transaction occasioned, has not only set the greatest part of the work above the danger of confutation, but has added to the entertainment of the reader, who has now the satisfaction of forming to himself the characters of the actors, and judging how nearly such, as have hitherto been given of them, agree with those which they now give of themselves.