Such is the family story, collated from the family letters preserved by three or four generations; their interest to the recipients, and even at this date to their connections, it appears to me is sufficient to account for their having been so carefully cherished. Some of Richard Hill’s letters are models of thought and diction, displaying a mind of great clearness, judgment, and decision; and, in the whole collection, the warmth of heart exhibited is very attractive.
One of the pleasures of tracing this history, is to be found in the completeness with which we follow each individual through their various and very different allotments and pursuits. There is an earnestness and reality, giving great interest to their several narratives, which make the reader, while he lives their lives over again with them, enter into a near sympathy with all their thoughts and actions. By telling their own histories in their own way, we understand them better than if the materials were reduced to the compass of a mere biographical sketch, such as I have attempted in this introduction.
Few are the families whose annals the world would judge worthy of minute investigation, and it is not, therefore, to the public that family history—to use the expression in its most dignified sense—should in general be addressed. It is not, I repeat, for public, but private use that these letters have been printed.
I cannot give my own view of such family records more clearly than by adopting the language of a late eminent author:—
“Every family should have a record of its own. Each has its peculiar spirit, running through the whole line, and, in more or less development, perceptible in every generation. Rightly viewed, as a most powerful but much neglected instrument of education, I can imagine no study more rife with pleasure and instruction. Nor need our ancestors have been Scipios or Fabii to interest us in their fortunes. We do not love our kindred for their glory or their genius, but for those domestic affections and private virtues that, unobserved by the world, expand in confidence towards ourselves, like the banian of the East, and flourish with independent vigour in the heart to which a kind Providence has guided them. And why should we not derive equal benefit from studying the virtues of our forefathers? An affectionate regard for their memory is natural to the heart; it is an emotion totally distinct from pride—an ideal love, free from that consciousness of requited affection and reciprocal esteem which constitutes so much of the satisfaction we derive from the love of the living. They are denied, it is true, to our personal acquaintance, but the light they shed during their lives survives within their tombs, and will reward our search if we explore them. Be their light, then, our beacon—not the glaring light of heroism which emblazons their names in the page of history with a lustre as cold, though as dazzling, as the gold of an heraldic illuminator, but the pure and sacred flame that descends from heaven on the altar of a Christian heart, and that warmed their naturally frozen affections till they produced the fruits of piety, purity, and love, evinced in holy thoughts and good actions, of which many a record might be found in the annals of the past, would we but search for them; and in which we may find as strong incentives to virtuous emulation as we gather every day from those bright examples of living worth which it is the study of every good man to imitate. And if the virtues of strangers be so attractive to us, how infinitely more so should be those of our kindred, and with what additional energy should the precepts of our parents influence us, when we trace the transmission of those precepts from father to son through successive generations, each bearing the testimony of a virtuous, useful, and honourable life to their truth and influence, and all uniting in a kind and earnest exhortation to their descendants so to live on earth that, followers of Him through whose grace we have power to obey Him, we may at last be reunited with those who have been before, and those who shall come after us—
‘No wanderer lost,
A family in heaven!”
Go to: Doctor Richard Hill