In the Preface to the first edition of this work, it was my painful duty to remark with severity on the dissemination of libels on Paine in a work of such importance as Mr. Leslie Stephen's "History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century." The necessity of doing so was impressed on me by the repetition of some of Mr. Stephen's unfounded disparagements in Mr. O. B. Frothingham's "Recollections and Impressions." I have now the satisfaction of introducing this edition with retractations by both of those authors. Mr. Frothingham, in a letter which he authorizes me to use, says: "Your charge is true, and I hasten to say peccavi The truth is that I never made a study of Paine, but took Stephen's estimates. Now my mistake is clear, and I am willing to stand in the cold with nothing on but a hair shirt Your vindication of Paine is complete." Mr. Frothingham adds that in any future edition of his work the statements shall be altered. The note of Mr. Leslie Stephen appeared in The National Reformer, September 11, 1892, to which it was sent by a correspondent, at his desire; for it equally relates to strictures in a pamphlet by the editor of that journal, Mr. John M. Robertson.
"The account which I gave of Paine in the book upon the Eighteenth Century was, I have no doubt, erroneous. My only excuse, if it be an excuse, was the old one, 'pure ignorance.' I will not ask whether or how far the ignorance was excusable.
"Mr. Conway pointed out the error in an article contributed, I think, to the Fortnightly Review at the time. He has, no doubt, added, since then, to his exposure of my (and other people's) blunders, and I hope to read his book soon. Meanwhile, I must state that in consequence of the Fortnightly article, I altered the statements in the second edition of my book. I have no copy at hand [Mr. S. writes from the country] and cannot say what alterations precisely I made, though it is very possible that they were inadequate, as for certain reasons I was unable to attend properly to the revision. If a third edition should ever be required, I would go into the question more thoroughly. I have since that time read some letters upon Paine contributed by Mr. Conway to the New York Nation. I had seen the announcement of his new publication, and had made up my mind to take the first opportunity of going into the question again with Mr. Conway's additional information. I hope that I may be able to write Paine's life for the Dictionary of National Biography, and if so, shall have the best opportunity for putting on record my final judgment It will be a great pleasure to me if I find, as I expect to find, that he was greatly maligned, and to make some redress for my previous misguided remarks."
It is indeed to be hoped that Mr. Stephen will write the Life in the Dictionary, whose list of subjects for the coming volume, inserted in the Athenæum since his above retraction, designates Thomas Paine as an "infidel" writer. Mr. Stephen can do much to terminate the carefully fostered ignorance of which he has found himself a victim. In advance of his further treatment of the subject, and with perfect confidence in his justice, I here place by the side of my original criticism a retraction of anything that may seem to include him among authors who have shown a lack of magnanimity towards Paine.