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thors of Queen Anne's reign, produced in the public such a delicacy and even fastidiousness of taste, as could not be gratified by the irregular compositions of our early poets, who therefore soon fell into disrepute, and were in a little time consigned to oblivion. The disuse of the black letter contributed, perhaps, to this revolution in taste. Of those works which had been printed in that antiquated character, a very few copies, becoming valuable from their scarcity, escaped into the cabinets of literary collectors, where they are secure indeed against farther insult, but are at the same time inacceslible to the curiosity of the public.
It has been lamented by many lovers of poetry, that, when a general and uniform edition of our poets was published under the auspices of Dr. Johnson, no effort was made in favour of these antiquated writers. It should seem, that the director of that literary apotheofis might have recommended to public notice the works of Surrey, Wyat,
Sidney, Raleigh, and the several contributors to our earlier miscellanies, as justly and as successfully as those of Blackmore, Sprat, and Yalden. The opportunity, however, is now loft, and is not likely to be foon recovered.
To those who possess a complete poetical library, the following collection will, of course, be useless : it is a mere commonplace book, and very imperfect ; but, it is hoped, far less so than any other of the same size. It is confined to small poems only ; because it was apprehended that these would be more pleasing than extracts and fragments, and would tend equally to characterize the manner of the several authors. . The task of selection too was much easier; for any man can appreciate the merit of natural thoughts conveyed in natural language, whereas inspiration is a supernatural agent, and what in one age passes for sublime, may in ano. ther be only considered as absurd,
POEMs of the ballad kind have been omit, ted, because they seem less connected with the history of our poetry, than with that of our ancient manners and customs. For this reason too, the longest are scarcely susceptible of abridgment, and their number is not so considerable as to require selection. It is to be wished that more of them may be discovered, particularly in the class of metrical romances, as even the oldest of those in prose are claimed as the property of other nations,
As many of the names which occur in this volume will probably not be familiar to the general class of readers, it might be expected that the specimens of each author should be preceded by some account of his life and writings: but it was thought unnecessary to attempt what has been already executed in the best and most popular of our modern miscellanies. A sufficient account of all the British poets may be found either in Percy's Collection; or in Headley's Select Beauties of
ancient English Poetry; or in Pinkerton's Scottish Ballads and Poems.
It is necessary to mention, that the compiler has taken the liberty of adopting throughout the orthography of the present time. He conceives, that, although some of the variations which have taken place in our mode of spelling may have been dictated by caprice, the greater number were adopted with a view to prevent ambiguity, and that it is no injury to his authors to render them more intelligible.
The freedom which has been taken in suppressing not only several lines, but occasionally very long passages in a poem, is certainly inexcusable, if it shall be found to have been injudiciously exercised : but, on this point, the reader's opinion will probably be decided rather by the merit of what is preserved, than by any apology that could be offered in a preface.