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worthy the attention of the public. At length the importunity of his friends prevailed, and he could refuse nothing to such judges as the author of the Rambler and the late Mr. Shenstone.
Accordingly such specimens of ancient poetry have been selected, as either shew the gradation of our language, exhibit the progress of popular opinions, display the peculiar manners and customs of former ages, or throw light on our earlier classical poets.
They are here distributed into volumes, each of which contains an independent series of poems, arranged chiefly according to the order of time, and shewing the gradual improvements of the English language and poetry from the earliest ages down to the present. Each volume, or series, is divided into three books, to afford so many pauses, or restingplaces to the reader, and to assist him in distinguishing between the productions of the earlier, the middle, and the latter times.
In a polished age, like the present, I am sensible that many of these reliques of antiquity will require great allowances to be made for them. Yet have they, for the most part, a pleasing simplicity, and many artless graces, which in the opinion of no mean critics have been thought to compensate for the want of higher beauties, and, if they do not dazzle the imagination, are frequently found to interest the heart.
To atone for the rudeness of the more obsolete poems, each volume concludes with a few modern attempts in the same kind of writing: and, to take off from the tediousness of the longer narratives,
* Mr. Addison, Mr. Dryden, and the witty Lord Dorset, &c. See the Spectator, No. 70. To these might be added many eminent judges now alive. The learned Selden appears also to have been fond of collecting these old things. See below.
they are everywhere intermingled with little elegant pieces of the lyric kind. Select ballads in the old Scottish dialect, most of them of the first-rate merit, are also interspersed among those of our ancient English minstrels; and the artless productions of these old rhapsodists are occasionally confronted with specimens of the composition of contemporary poets of a higher class; of those who had all the advantages of learning in the times in which they lived, and who wrote for fame and for posterity. Yet perhaps the palm will be frequently due to the old strolling minstrels, who composed their rhymes to be sung to their harps, and who looked no farther than for present applause, and present subsistence.
The reader will find this class of men occasionally described in the following volumes, and some particulars relating to their history in an Essay subjoined. (Appendix I.)
It will be proper here to give a short account of the other collections that were consulted, and to make my acknowledgements to those gentlemen who were so kind as to impart extracts from them; for, while this selection was making, a great number of ingenious friends took a share in the work, and explored many large repositories in its favour.
The first of these that deserved notice was the Pepysian library at Magdalen College, Cambridge. Its founder, Sam. Pepys, Esq.,* Secretary of the Admiralty in the reigns of Charles II. and James II. had made a large collection of ancient English
* A life of our curious collector Mr. Pepys may be seen in the continuation of Mr. Collier's Supplement to his Great Diction. 1715, at the end of vol. iii. folio. Art. Pep.†
[In Percy's time Pepys was not known as the author of that Diary which will keep his name in remembrance so long as English literature continues to exist.]
ballads, near 2,000 in number, which he has left pasted in five volumes in folio; besides Garlands and other smaller miscellanies. This collection he tells us was "begun by Mr. Selden; improved by the addition of many pieces elder thereto in time; and the whole continued down to the year 1700; when the form peculiar till then thereto, viz., of the black letter with pictures, seems (for cheapness sake) wholly laid aside for that of the white letter without pictures."
In the Ashmole Library at Oxford is a small collection of ballads made by Anthony Wood in the year 1676, containing somewhat more than 200. Many ancient popular poems are also preserved in the Bodleyan library.
The archives of the Antiquarian Society at London contain a multitude of curious political poems in large folio volumes, digested under the several reigns of Hen. VIII., Edw. VI., Mary, Elizabeth, James I., &c.*
In the British Museum is preserved a large treasure of ancient English poems in MS. besides one folio volume of printed ballads.
From all these some of the best pieces were selected; and from many private collections, as well printed, as manuscript, particularly from one large folio volume which was lent by a lady.
Amid such a fund of materials, the editor is afraid he has been sometimes led to make too great a parade of his authorities. The desire of being accurate has perhaps seduced him into too minute and trifling an exactness; and in pursuit of information he may have been drawn into many a petty and frivolous research. It was, however, necessary to
* [The Society of Antiquaries have published a catalogue of this collection by Robert Lemon, 8vo. 1866.]
give some account of the old copies; though often, for the sake of brevity, one or two of these only are mentioned, where yet assistance was received from several. Where any thing was altered that deserved particular notice, the passage is generally distinguished by two inverted commas.' And the editor has endeavoured to be as faithful as the imperfect state of his materials would admit. For, these old popular rhymes being many of them copied only from illiterate transcripts, or the imperfect recitation of itinerant ballad-singers, have, as might be expected, been handed down to us with less care than any other writings in the world. And the old copies, whether MS. or printed, were often so defective or corrupted, that a scrupulous adherence to their wretched readings would only have exhibited unintelligible nonsense, or such poor meagre stuff, as neither came from the bard, nor was worthy the press; when, by a few slight corrections or additions, a most beautiful or interesting sense hath started forth, and this so naturally and easily, that the editor could seldom prevail on himself to indulge the vanity of making a formal claim to the improvement; but must plead guilty to the charge of concealing his own share in the amendments under some such general title, as a Modern Copy, or the like. Yet it has been his design to give sufficient intimation where any considerable liberties* were taken with the old copies, and to have retained either in the text or margin any word or phrase which was antique, obsolete, unusual, or peculiar, so that these might be safely quoted as of genuine and undoubted antiquity. His object was to please both the judicious antiquary, and the reader of taste; and he hath endeavoured to gratify both without offending either.
* Such liberties have been taken with all those pieces which have three asterisks subjoined, thus
The plan of the work was settled in concert with the late elegant Mr. Shenstone, who was to have borne a joint share in it had not death unhappily prevented him*: most of the modern pieces were of his selection and arrangement, and the editor hopes to be pardoned if he has retained some things out of partiality to the judgment of his friend. The old folio MS. above-mentioned was a present from Humphrey Pitt, Esq., of Prior's-Lee, in Shropshire,† to whom this public acknowledgement is due for that, and many other obliging favours. obliging favours. To Sir David Dalrymple, Bart., of Hailes, near Edinburgh, the editor is indebted for most of the beautiful Scottish poems with which this little miscellany is enriched, and for many curious and elegant remarks with which they are illustrated. Some obliging communications of the same kind were received from John MacGowan, Esq., of Edinburgh; and many curious explanations of Scottish words in the glossaries from John Davidson, Esq., of Edinburgh, and from the Rev. Mr. Hutchinson, of Kimbolton. Mr. Warton, who has twice done so much honour to the Poetry Professor's chair at Oxford, and Mr. Hest, of Wor
That the editor hath not here under-rated the assistance he received from his friend, will appear from Mr. Shenstone's own letter to the Rev. Mr. Graves, dated March 1, 1761. See his Works, vol. iii. letter cii. It is doubtless a great loss to this work that Mr. Shenstone never saw more than about a third of one of these volumes, as prepared for the press.
† Who informed the editor that this MS. had been purchased in a library of old books, which was thought to have belonged to Thomas Blount, Author of the Jocular Tenures, 1679, 4to. and of many other publications enumerated in Wood's Athena, ii. 73; the earliest of which is The Art of making Devises, 1646, 4to. wherein he is described to be "of the Inner Temple." If the collection was made by this lawyer (who also published the Law Dictionary, 1671, folio), it should seem, from the errors and defects with which the MS. abounds, that he had employed his clerk in writing the transcripts, who was often weary of his task.