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THE original plan of this work was to comprise
all the beautiful Poetry in the English language, from the time of Henry VIII. and Queen Elizabeth, (when the excellence of our poets began to fix the language,) down to the present time. But the limits to which the Editor was confined, rendered it impossible; much fine poetry was unavoidably to be excluded: this has constituted one great difficulty, and must be the excuse for many of the omissions..
The selections from the mincr ancient poets, are chiefly taken from, a small volume puriisked in 1790, entitled Specimens of the Early English Poets. With respect to the moderns, the Editer has not attempted to come down lower tann Cowper.
The arrangement which has been adopted, (tf placing all the poems of one author together, and classing the poets according to the time in which they flourished,) is the most obvious, and the best calculated to show the gradual alterations in our language, and the improvement in our versifica tion, if not in our poetry. A division under se parate heads, must generally be fanciful. The length of the selections from each poet, has been as much as possible proportioned to his excellence: and where all the fine poems of an author could not be admitted, those have been chosen which are most generally admired. No selections from our Epic, and other long poems, are admitted,
because it very much destroys the interest of the whole poem, to be first acquainted with the most beautiful parts: and even the passages selected lose much of their beauty, when given detached from the subject to which the poet had connected them. But this is not the case where the parts of a poem are unconnected; or rather, where several distinct poems are written under one title, as the Night Thoughts of Young. Independently of these objections, the admission of extracts from long poems, must have excluded too many of the entire poems.
The Editor has endeavoured as much as possible, to correct his own judgment by public opinion; and under that idea has admitted several poems, which he does not particularly admire. Therefore he cannot hope, that any one of his readers should End Lo poems he would wish to exclude; not recollect others whose omission he may regret. If he does not find many such, the •Editor will be more than satisfied. Novelty is not to på expected in a work of this kind: it could only be obtained by inserting the least known, and consequently the worst productions of but poets. If therefore the reader find nothing new, it will be an argument in favour of this Selection.
As it may be expected that something should be said concerning the utility of this work, on this ground the Editor has only to say, that the last edition of the British Poets, commencing from Milton only, contains nearly an 100 volumes, and is published at 10 Guineas.
Those dates marked thus are doubtful.