« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
serving for the conveyance of some favourite tunes. We were concerned to find that the more
was, it was remarkably the more deficient in poetical merit; so that a total decay of all taste for genuine poetry, in this pleasing branch of it, was to be apprehended. This we in great measure attributed to the fashionable rage for music, which bad encouraged such a mushroom growth of comic operas, that vile mongrel of the drama, where the most enchanting tunes are suited with the most flat and wretched combinations of words that ever disgraced the genius of a nation; and where the miserable versifier only appears as the hired underling of a musical composer. We thought therefore, that it would be a meritorious piece of service to the cause of poetry, by uniting into one firm body the most excellent productions in song-writing, to form a barrier against the modish insipidity of the age, and to gratify such real lovers of genius as yet remain amongst us.
This task I was induced to undertake ; and were I to make a boastful recital of the numerous volumes of song-colleEtions and miscellany poems which I have turned over for the purpose, it would show that industry at least had not been wanting in accomplishing it. This kind of praise, however, is of so inferiour a nature, that, I confess, it would scarcely satisfy my ambition. During the progress of my researches, I was insensibly led to make some remarks on the peculiar character and diversities of the pieces which pafed in review before me, and to form comparisons between them, and others, the produce of a different age and country. As the subjeët had novelty to recommended it, and was suited to my inclinations, I was incited to pursue it to a length which seemed to render it lawful for me to take the title of an Esayist, instead of a mere compiler. If the attempts which should support this more honourable character bave not the fortune to meet with approbation,
I must be contented with my humble endeavours to please by the merits of others; yet I cannot acknowledge any impropriety in the design, well remembering that Horace promises his friends not only to present them with verse, but to tell them the worth of his present.
may perhaps be a matter of surprise, that after so much labour I have not been able to furnish a larger colle&tion than is here offered; but on considering the manner in which these pieces have been ushered into the world, the wonder will cease. The chief sources of good Songs, are the miscellany poems and plays from the time of Charles the second to the conclusion of Queen Ann's reign. Most of these were given in the earliest colleЕtions, mixed however with the trash of the times, and copied from one to another with no farther variation than substituting new trash for such as was out of date. In the most modern colle&tions, all the beauties, as well as the infipid pieces
of the early ones are discarded, and the whole is made up of favourite airs from the fashionable comic operas of the winter, and the summer warblings at Vauxhall, Ranelagh and Spring Gardens; so that in a year's time they are as much out of date as an almanack. From this account it will be perceived, that after making use of one of the best old collections as a standard, all the rest were little more than mere repetitions; and that the very modern ones were entirely useless.
After all, I would not presume to say that I bave culled every valuable production which this branch of poetry affords. Difference of taste will always prevent uniformity of judgment, even where the faculties of judging are equal; and I have been much less solicitous to give a colle£tion to which nothing could be added, than one from which nothing could reasonably be rejezted. In Song-writing, as well as in every other production of art, there
is a large class of the mediocres, which are of such dubious merit as would allow the reader to bestate in his approbation of them. I have felt very little scruple in rejeEling a number of these. It is not enough that poetry does not disgust, it ought to give raptures. A much more disagreeable piece of severity was the rejection of several pieces, marked with a rich vein of genuine poetry, but not fufficiently guarded from offending that charming delicacy of the sex, which every man must admire, and ought to respect. These were the luxuriances of an age, when the men of pleasure lavished wit and genius, as well as health and fortune, upon their diversions. Had they lived at a time when taste was more refined, and manners were less licentious, their natural gallantry would have restrained them from offering an outrage to those, whom they most wished for readers and admirers.
I hope I bave now said enough to intimate for what class of readers this work is calcu