Having brought my History of the Abolition of the Slave-trade up to the month of May 1787, I purpose taking the liberty, before I proceed with it, to devote this chapter to considerations relative to myself. This, indeed, seems to be now necessary: for I have been fearful for some pages past, and, indeed, from the time when I began to introduce myself to the notice of the reader, as one of the forerunners and coadjutors in this great cause, that I might appear to have put myself into a situation too prominent, so as even to have incurred the charge of ostentation. But if there should be some, who, in consequence of what they have already read of this history, should think thus unfavourably of me, what must their opinion ultimately be, when, unfortunately, I must become still more prominent in it! Nor do I know in what manner I shall escape their censure. For if, to avoid egotism, I should write, as many have done, in the third person, what would this profit me? The delicate situation, therefore, in which I feel myself to be placed, makes me desirous of saying a few words to the reader on this subject.
And first, I may observe, that several of my friends urged me from time to time, and this long before the abolition of the Slave-trade had been effected, to give a history of the rise and progress of the attempt, as far as it had been then made. But I uniformly resisted their application.
When the question was decided last year, they renewed their request. They represented to me, that no person knew the beginning and progress of this great work so well as myself; that it was a pity that such knowledge should die with me; that such a history would be useful; that it would promote good feelings among men; that it would urge them to benevolent exertions; that it would supply them with hope in the midst of these; that it would teach them many valuable lessons:—these and other things were said to me. But, encouraging as they were, I never lost sight of the objection, which is the subject of this chapter; nor did I ever fail to declare, that though, considering the part I had taken in this great cause, I might be qualified better than some others, yet it was a task too delicate for me to perform. I always foresaw that I could not avoid making myself too prominent an object in such a history, and that I should be liable, on that account, to the suspicion of writing it for the purpose of sounding my own praise.
With this objection my friends were not satisfied. They answered, that I might treat the History of the Abolition of the Slave-trade as a species of biography, or as the history of a part of my own life: that people, who had much less weighty matters to communicate, wrote their own histories; and that no one charged them with vanity for so doing.