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TO THE MOST NOBLE
THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE,
&c. &c. &c.
LORD PRESIDENT OF HER MAJESTY'S MOST HONOURABLE
In availing myself of your Lordship's permission to inscribe to you the following pages, I have not the remotest idea of sheltering myself under your honoured name from any controversy or censure to which they may be fairly liable.
But the approbation which you expressed, some years ago, of the last of three former pieces enumerated on my title-page, was addressed to me, though in flattering terms, yet on the public ground of its relation to that great object, our national culture, in the promotion of which you have ever taken so active and cordial a part.
There seems to me, therefore, to be every propriety in thus presenting to your Lordship a volume of essays on a subject which, in universal interest, is unexcelled by any theme of expository criticism, and which, in relation to British art and poetry, is far above all subjects what
With profound respect,
London, October 26th, 1817.
This collective publication might seem sufficiently warranted by the fact, that the individual papers have, for some time past, been out of print and in demand.
But a stronger reason for it exists in the nature of the papers themselves. How slight soever the form in which his first public essays on Shakespearian art and poetry have appeared, the subject had long and deeply engaged the author's attention; nor would he have entered this great field of criticism at all, had he not felt a deliberate persuasion that he could contribute, however humbly, towards an improved interpretation of the greatest of dramatic poets.
The best way of bringing this matter fairly to the test, was evidently, to detach the scattered papers from the masses of extraneous matter surrounding them in the periodical publications in which they appeared, and bring them together in one peculiar and exclusive volume. How great soever the variety of subject in the individual dramas under consideration, yet one and the same leading spirit pervades each of the respective criticisms thus reproduced: therefore, if just, they will illustrate each other's soundness; if erro