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TO THE FOURTH EDITION.
TWENTY years have near elapsed since the last edition of this work appeared. But, although it was sufficiently a favourite with the public, and had long been out of print, the original editor had no desire to revive it. More important pursuits had, as might be expected, engaged his attention; and the present edition would have remained unpublished, had he not yielded to the importunity of his friends, and accepted the humble offer of an editor in a nephew, to whom, it is feared, he will be found too partial.
These volumes are now restored to the public with such corrections and improvements as have occurred since the former impression; and the text in particular hath been emended in many passages by recurring to the old copies. The instances, being frequently trivial, are not always noted in the margin; but the alteration hath never been made without good b
reason; and especially in such pieces as were extracted from the folio manuscript so often mentioned in the following pages, where any variation occurs from the former impression, it will be understood to have been given on the authority of that MS.
The appeal publicly made to Dr. Johnson in the first page of the following Preface, so long since as in the year 1765, and never once contradicted by him during so large a portion of his life, ought to have precluded every doubt concerning the existence of the MS. in question. But such, it seems, having been suggested, it may now be mentioned, that, while this edition passed through his press, the MS. itself was left for near a year with Mr. Nichols, in whose house, or in that of its possessor, it was examined with more or less attention by many gentlemen of eminence in literature. At the first publication of these volumes it had been in the hands of all, or most of, his friends; but, as it could hardly be expected that he should continue to think of nothing else but these amusements of his youth, it was afterwards laid aside at his residence in the country. Of the many gentlemen above-mentioned, who offered to give their testimony to the public, it will be sufficient to name the Honourable Daines Barrington, the Reverend Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode, and those eminent critics on Shakespeare, the Reverend Dr. Farmer, George Steevens, Esq., Edmund Malone, Esq.,
and Isaac Reed, Esq., to whom I beg leave to appeal for the truth of the following representation.
The MS. is a long narrow folio volume, containing 195 Sonnets, Ballads, Historical 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 54 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," &c. &c.
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 hath just reason to be satisfied, while refined entertainment hath been provided for every reader of taste and genius.
* Page 130. reciter.)
+ Page 139.
Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford.
Ver. 117. (This must have been copied from a
"His visage waxed pan and wale."