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rical Songs, and Metrical Romances, either in the whole or in part, for many of them are extremely mutilated and imperfect. The first and last leaves are wanting; and of fifty-four pages, near the beginning, half of every leaf hath been torn away, and several others are injured towards the end; besides that through a great part of the volume the top or bottom line, and sometimes both, have been cut off in the binding.
In this state is the MS. itself: and even where the leaves have suffered no injury, the transcripts, which seem to have been all made by one person, (they are at least all in the same kind of hand,) are sometimes extremely incorrect and faulty, being in such instances probably made from defective copies, or the imperfect recitation of illiterate singers; so that a considerable portion of the song or narrative is sometimes omitted, and miserable trash or nonsense not unfrequently introduced into pieces of considerable merit. And often the copyist grew so weary of his labour, as to write on without the least attention to the sense or meaning; so that the word which should form the rhyme is found misplaced in the middle of the line; and we have such blunders as these, want and will, for wanton will ;* even pan and wale, for wan and pale,t &c. &c.
* This must have been copied from a reciter. + Thus we find in the fol. MS.
“ His visage waxed pan and wale."
Hence the public may judge how much they are indebted to the composer of this collection; who, at an early period of life, with such materials and such subjects, formed a work which hath been admitted into the most elegant libraries, and with which the judicious antiquary bath just reason to be satisfied, while refined entertainment hath been provided for every reader of taste and genius.
The reader is here presented with select remains of our ancient English Bards and Minstrels, an order of men who were once greatly respected by our ancestors, and contributed to soften the roughness of a martial and unlettered people by their songs and by their music.
The greater part of them are extracted from an ancient folio MS. in the Editor's possession, which contains near two hundred Poems, Songs, and Metrical Romances. This manuscript was written about the middle of the last century; but contains compositions of all times and dates, from the ages prior to Chaucer, to the conclusion of the reign of Charles I.*
This manuscript was shown to several learned and ingenious friends, who thought the contents too curious to be consigned to oblivion, and importuned the possessor to select some of them, and give them to the press. As most of them are of great simplicity, and seem to have been merely written for the people, he was long in doubt, whether, in the present state of improved literature, they could be deemed worthy the
* Chaucer quotes the old romance of “ Libius Disconius," and some others, which are found in this MS. (See the Essay prefixed to vol. iii. page 15 et seq.) It also contains several Songs relating to the Civil War in the last century, but not one that alludes to the Restoration.
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 show 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, ranged chiefly according to the order of time, and showing 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.
* 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.
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, they are every where 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 further 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 to this Preface.
It will be proper here to give a short account of the other Collections that were consulted, and to make my acknowledgments 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 Pe