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ANCIENT AND MODERN.
WITH MEMOIRS OF THE AUTHORS
By J. ROSS.
“O deem not, 'midst this worldly strife,
An idle art the Poet brings :
HAVING prefaced the subject by an Historical Introduction, the Editor has here simply to indicate some of the principles to which he has adhered, and the considerations by which he has been influenced in the practical carrying out of the prospectus in which this exposition of the Poetry of Scotland was announced.
To exhibit Scottish poetry as an exponent of the breadth and depth of the national character, was laid down as the leading aim of the work. But while holding that its influence as a purifying, consolidating, and consecrating element is the main use of national poetry, and that this consideration, from a general and popular point of view, should govern his treatment of it, the Editor has not been indifferent to its linguistic bearings.
In the selection of poems and specimens, simplicity, adherence to nature, and the predominance of character, are features to which due deference has been paid; but no rigid rule, dispensing with the constant exercise of the judgment, was adopted. Poetical merit has been the leading consideration, but the space given to each author is not to be taken as our estimate of their relative merits, for in the cases of Burns, Scott, and Campbell, their unmutilated popularity is our reason for giving them a merely formal recognition.
In the Ancient Section, when not marked unaltered, the spelling of all words that could only be pronounced as they are at present, has been modernized, as thai, they ; bute, boot; and the use of v for u and u for v, as in upon and euery, has been abolished as misleading.
These, with the conversion of the plurals es and is into s, when not required by the measure, are the chief changes that have been made, and they constitute nine-tenths of the verbal hindrances to the easy reading of our old authors, from Barbour to Montgomery. Nowhere has the structure been touched, nor a word altered that was decided to be other than a mere antiquated spelling. The texts have invariably been taken from the best authorities, and these are pointed out in the Lives and Introductory Notes; and in some cases, as in the “King's Quair" of James I., a comparison of texts has been made. The more obvious expedients by which the Editor has tried to popularize, by facilitating the comprehension of the quaint but beautiful poetry of our ancient bards, need not be here pointed out.
In the Modern Section, beginning with Ramsay, a more general acquaintance with the subject has been presumed, and the texts are left untouched; for, except Ramsay, the moderns use almost no spellings that are not essential to their pronunciation.
A striking feature of our modern poetry is the profusion of its song-writers; and the number of excellent songs by anonymous authors prove the general diffusion of the lyric faculty to be a Scottish characteristic. A not less remarkable indication of the same fact is the process of popular attrition by which some of the rough diamonds of song have been polished into finished gems.
Of the lives of the poets, it is enough to remark that they are the outcome of a comparison of the best authorities, and it is believed they omit no facts essential to the formation of an impartial estimate of their subjects.
EDINBURGH, November 1877.