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THE intention of the author has been to treat an antiquarian subject in a popular way: he has found in his progress that he has not been able to accomplish that purpose to the extent of his wishes. If he had accomplished it, he might, perhaps, have made a better speculation, but a worse book:—it would have possessed even less substance than in its present shape belongs to it.
The general success which attended the publication of such works as Censura Literaria, the British Bibliographer, and Restituta, the numerous reprints made of late years from judiciously selected productions of our early writers, without taking into view the prices which original specimens of the poetry of our ancestors now uniformly obtain, may be considered tests of the public taste in this respect. Though the author's
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plan is different, his design is the same: neither in his title, nor in his object, does he claim any novelty, nor is it of consequence that he should. The general scheme of this work was formed long before the appearance of the Rev. Mr. Dibdin's "Bibliographical Decameron," a work of far deeper research and far wider learning than the author can pretend to. Yet the subject of these inquiries, if not as curious and recondite, is at least as inviting and important, for, as a living critic has well said, " poetry is 'the stuff of which our life is made:' it is not a mere frivolous accomplishment—the trifling amusement of a few idle readers or leisure hours—it has been the study and delight of mankind in all ages."
As to the matter of the work before him, the reader will find it more fully explained in the Induction; but it may be necessary here to remark that where other writers have gone before him in extracts from or criticisms upon any of our old poets, the author has either shunned the track, or has freely admitted his obligation to his precursors. He knew that the chief recommendation of his work, after all, would be its originality, as far as respects the various books of which specimens are introduced; and it has therefore been a principle with him to avail himself as little as possible of other men's labours.
With regard to the manner, the form of dialogue has been selected, as allowing more ease and familiarity of observation, and at the same time a greater facility of excursion from one book or from one subject to another. It is a saying of refined antiquity, that a meeting of friends should never consist of more than the Muses, or of fewer than the Graces: the latter has been chosen in this instance for greater convenience and simplicity, and as much diversity of character has been displayed as the nature of the conversations would easily allow. Congeniality of feeling was of course necessary, and different modifications of it was nearly all that could be attempted.
There is but one of the succeeding conversations, the seventh, which can be properly called miscellaneous, for all the rest have one leading object, more or less strictly pursued. Thus in the first, a very rare poem of much talent by Fitzgeffrey, may be said to be the ground-work; all the digressions in their degrees contributing to illustrate it. The second treats particularly of the rise and progress of undramatic blank verse in English, used at least a century before the publication of Paradise Lost. The four next conversations are devoted to the origin and improvement of satirical poetry, of which Bishop Hall, with a little of what Lord Bacon calls "the varnish of boasting,1' falsely claims and has been generally admitted to be the earliest inventor or practiser, when, in truth, he was preceded by several celebrated writers. The seventh contains a collection of curious poems, independently of such as the author had introduced in his progress in furtherance of the main designs. The eighth criticises an original novel, on which Shakespeare founded his "Twelfth Night," very recently discovered, and unknown to all his numerous editors: it also adverts to other productions to which our great dramatic bard was indebted. The ninth and tenth conversations