Page images
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]


IT is now five or six years since a friend who was collecting a Library for his own use, requested me to furnish him with a list of the best works written in French, in every branch of literature; a request with which I readily complied. The repeated expressions of the advantage and facility thus afforded him by guiding his choice, on a subject where it was natural to suppose I possessed the greater share of infor: mation, led me to suppose that what had been advantageous to him, might prove so to others; that in this country, where French is so much studied, many persons might, like him, wish to form a French Library, and like him be at a loss for information, and desirous of assistance on the subject. It was not assuming too much, perhaps, to suppose that I was able to afford this information, and it was equally natural that I should thus seize the opportunity offered me of extending, in England, the knowledge of the Literature of my own country. With this view, I began to make a list of all the works in our language which I thought most likely to instruct and interest the generality of English readers. But I soon perceived, that to give a mereenumeration of titles, without adding a character of the works, especially when several occurred on one subject, was to furnish the reader with little more than he could find in every bookseller's catalogue. To give, as far as my own judgment would allow, a proper character of each work, was therefore my next undertaking, but after having made considerable progress, another difficulty presented itself. The work contemplated was intended to make the English reader acquainted with French Literature, a Literature against which more prejudices exist (how far they may be just becomes not me to say), than perhaps against any other, and in favour of which I was as likely to be biassed, as most of my readers were likely to be prejudiced against it. What right had I then to suppose that any attention would be paid to the dictum of one who had no claims to public confidence, and whose mind might be influenced by national vanity, influenced by national prejudices, or incapacitated by want of judgment and information ? To have looked for materials among French writers alone, would have proved a comparatively easy task, but to do this would have been to remove but half the difficulty. I therefore sought for critical remarks among English authors, and as their judgment was likely to be more esteemed by my readers, I determined never to give the opinion of a French Critic, when that of an English one, of equal value, could be obtained. The progress

of the work now offered to the public, has been thus particularly stated, not from any vanity which might lead me to suppose a very great degree of interest attached to it, but because I have always thought that if every author who composes a work of any mag

nitude, were thus to state the circumstances under which he first conceived, and the manner in which he afterwards performed, his under. taking, we should have a better insight into the human mind, and a more perfect knowledge of its nature and progress than may

be obtained by any other means.

As I only give an account of the books wliiclı appeared good, both to myself and to the authors quoted as authorities it cannot be a matter of surprise that all the quotations should be laudatory. But having drawn materials from every source, I cannot be held responsible for all the opinions advanced by the writers I quote, since to have only brought forward those whose judgment I entirely approved, would have been little more than giving my own opinion, on which, as I have already observed, I well knew little or no reliance could be placed. My duty therefore was, not to speak, but to introduce the speakers. For this forbearance, however, I have found myself some compensation ; for while the great folks are speaking

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »