« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
UBLICATIONS of this nature are already fo
numerous that, if a preface had not, on any other account, been neceffary, something of the kind would, doubtless, have been required, by way of apology, for adding one more to the number, particularly under so plain and unalluring a title as that with which the prefent volumes are ushered into the world. Every work, however, should be its own advocate, and so must this, whatever may be here alledged in its favour.
Perhaps, indeed, if the above circumstance be viewed in a proper light, we shall find that the multiplicity of fimilar compilations afford rather an argument for, than an objection to an additional undertaking, upon an improved plan. There is not, it may be faitly asserted, any one language in the world" poffefféu of a greater variety of beautiful and elegant pieces of lyric poetry than our own. But, so long as these beauties, this elegance, continue to be scattered abroad, suppressed, and (if one may be allowed the expresion, buried alive, in a multitude of collections, consisting chiefly of compofitions of the lowest, and most despicable nature ; one or more being annually hashed up (crambe repetita) by needy retainers to the press, and the most modern being, always, infinitely the worst, (much of the one, and many of the other being, likewise, interspersed through books of a quite different caft, some of which are very voluminous, and others very scarce,) the greater part of this inestimable possession must, of course, remain altogether unknown to the generality of readers. For who, let his desires and his convenience be what they may, will think it worth his while to peruse, much less to purchase, two or three hundred volumes, merely because each of them may happen to contain a couple of excellent fongs? Every one who wishes to pofsefs a pearl, is not content to seek it in an ocean of mud. Vol. I.
Entirely, then, to remove every objection to which the subject is, at present, open; to exhibit all the most admired, and intrinsically excellent specimens of lyric poetry in the English language at one view; to promote real, instructive entertainment; to satisfy the critical taste of the judicious; to indulge the nobler feelings of the pensive; and to atford innocent mirth to the gay; has been the complex object of the present publication. How far it will answer these different purposes, muft be submitted to time, and the judgement, taste, and candour of its various readers.
The editor is, however, aware that a late elegant collection, under the title of Esays on Song-writing, may be mentioned as an exception to every charge brought against preceding publications; and it, certainly, is very far from being his intention to involve that work in the general reprobation. Neither, indeed, will the comparatively smadb• number of songs which the ingentojus.compilonpås, according to his own profefsion, been able to select, chiefly, perhaps, to illustrate his discourses on the fåbjects: and introduce the original compofitions, be; upon examination, found, unless in a very remote degree, :do Jnterfere with, or by any means to lessen the propriety of the present attempt.
In explaining the nature and methodical disposition of these volumes, it may not be impertinent to premise, that, as the collection, under the general title of songs, confifts, not only of pieces strictly and properly so called, but likewise, though in great disproportion as to number, of BALLADS or mere narrative compositions, the word song will, in the course of this preface, be almost every where used in its confined sense inclusive, however, of a few modern and sentimental ballads, which no reader of taste, it is believed, will be inclined to think out of place. Of the songs, therefor, in this sense, and as forming the bulk of the work, we are now to speak.
The plan which has been adopted with regard to these is a division or arrangement under the three heads or classes of Love, DRINKING, and MISCELLANEOUS
SONGS. This, perhaps, is too natural an idea to be a novel one; but it does not appear to have been practised more than once or twice, and even then without either judgement or attention, and in compilations which have been long buried in oblivion. It would have required a very small share of sagacity in the editor, to have puzzled and surprised his readers with a new, fanciful, and intricate arrangement of his materials under a multiplicity of descriptions. By such ingenious contrivances, he might pollibly have received the credit of trouble which he never took, and of difficulties which he never encountered; but how far his ingenuity would have benefited his readers, is a doubt which he does not find altogether so easy to solve. The general distribution which has been preferred was, it is confessed, simple and ready; but the interior order and disposition of the contents of each department is peculiar to the present volumes, and required more accuracy and attention than will, perhaps, be immediately conceived, or it is here meant to describe.
T'he first and principal division, which forms the subject matter for the whole of the present volume, is entirely confined to such pieces as are generally comprehended within the appellation and idea of love songs. This part is subdivided into many inferior portions or claffes, displaying or describing that sublime and noble, —that, sometimes, calm and delightful,—but more frequently violent, unfortunate, and dreadful passion, in all its various appearances, and with all its different effects, consequences, and connections. These objects are not, indeed, and neither necessity nor propriety seemed to require, or even allow, that they should be, pointed out in the different pages where they occur; but the attentive, reader will easily perceive, on the slightest inspection, the particular subject of each class. This will be rendered more obvious and familiar by the elegant and characteristic designs which precede and terminate each division. And they who may choose to consider the above mode rather a fatigue than a pleasure, are here informed, that the subjects peculiar to Class I. are diffidence,
admiration, respect, plaintive tenderness, misplaced paffion, jealousy, rage, despair, frenzy, and death: that in Class II. love is treated as a passion; with praise, contempt, reproach, satire, and ridicule: that Class III. exhibits the upbraidings, quarrels, reconciliations, indifference, levity, and inconftancy of lovers; and is closed by a few pieces, in which their misfortunes or most serious situations are attempted to be thrown into burlesque: that Class IV. is devoted, folely, to profeffions of love from the fair sex:-the moral to be drawn from the ill consequences of this passion being cherished in such tender bofoms, by the fatal instances of those unhappy fair ones who have suffered it to overcome their prudence, will be too obvious, -as it is too melancholy, to escape observation, or to need enforcing: that Class V. turns entirely upon the chaste delights of mutual affec, tion, and terminates with some beautiful representations of connubial felicity, and a few, not impertinent, admonitions to its bright creators. This arrangement, which is as comprehensive as it is particular, and will, it is hoped, be found to have been executed with all the care and attention fo new and difficult a project could require, the editor wholly submits to the taste and judgement of his fair readers; who, he trusts, will receive the highest and most refined amusement, not without confiderable instruction, from every part of the volume;. which, certainly, contains a much greater number and variety of elegant and beautiful compositions on the above interesting subject than were ever attempted to be brought together in any former collection, or than it would be even poflible for them elsewhere to meet with,
The second part, or first division of the other volume, comprises a small quantity of Anacreontics, i. c. Bacchanalian, or, with the readers permiflion, (and the title is not only more simple, but more general and proper) DRINKING SONGS ; chansons à boire; most of which may be reasonably allowed to have merit in their way: but the editor will candidly own that he was not sorry to find every.en: deavour used to enlarge this part of the collection with credit, (and he may, probably, as it is, have been too
Indulgent) prove altogther fruitless: a circumstance, per haps, which will, some time or other, be confidered as not a little to the honour of the English muse.
The third and last division is composed of such pieces as do not fall within either of the above descriptions, and contains several truly valuable lyric compositions, both ancient and modern, on a variety of subjects. It will be regretted that the number could not be rendered more confiderable.
Although no subdivision appeared neceffary, or was, indeed, admiffible, or even practicable, in these two lait parts, the reader may yet perceive an attention to, and propriety in the arrangement and disposition of each, with which, it is presumed, he will not have reason to be displeased.
Throughout the whole of the firft volume, the utmost care, the most scrupulous anxiety has been shewn to exclude every composition, however celebrated, or however excellent, of which the flighteft expreffion, or the most diftant allusion could have tinged the cheek of Delicacy, or offended the purity of the chastest ear. This abomination, fo grossly perceptible in, almost every preceding collection, and even where editors have dil claimed its countenance, or professed its removal, is here, it may be safely averred, for the first time, reformed altogether ; the remotest inclination to such an offence being scarcely to be discovered, even in that quarter in which licentiousness has been so long suffered, nay expected, to reign without controul, and was, of course, with the greater difficulty restrained, -amongst the Bacchanalian fongs; where, however, the editor is persuaded, no one of his fair readers, for whose perusal this part of the collection is, certainly, neither calculated nor intended, will seek to detect it. A former editor, a gentleman of taste and sentiment, has termed an execution of his duty in this respect, “ a disagreeable piece of severity;" the present editor, however, far from having experienced any pangs of remorse on the occasion, wishes he could have had reason to glory in being b 3