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the instrument of destruction to the whole species of those infidious and infernal productions.
Curs'd be their verse, and blasted all their bays,
Most, if not all, of the pieces which form the three divisions already enumerated, will be found more accurately printed than in any former compilation; having been selected from the best editions of the works of their respective authors, and other approved and authentic publications, or corrected by a careful collation of numerous copies. There is another advantage, which the present collection pofseffes unrivaled, and that is, the great number of names of the real authors of the songs, prefixed to their respective performances.
By those who, in reading the present collection, shall happen to remark the careful omission of all Scotish songs, it may be expected that the editor should give some realons why no pieces of that denomination, many of which are universally allowed to possess the highest degree of poetical merit, have been inserted. It might, perhaps, be sufficient, on this occasion, to plead the words of the title, which only promises ENGLISH Songs; but the editor is not, however, without a further, and, he would willingly hope, a more satisfactory apology; which is, an intention to present the public, at some future opportunity, with a much better and more perfect collection of songs Entirely Scotish,
that has been hitherto attempted: he must, therefor, intreat the patience of such of his readers
* W. Whitehead.
as are difappointed by, or may happen to complain of the present omiflion, till such intended publication appear. In the mean time, should any pieces of Scotish extraction be discovered in these volumes, which there is
every reason to think will not be the case, he has only to confess his ignorance of their origin, and to desire better information.
With respect to the lyric productions of our now fifter-kingdom Ireland, the best of them have been generally esteemed and ranked as English songs, being few in number, and possessing no national, or other peculiar or distinguishing ‘marks;* of these, however, the numberis very few, and that which might be deemed the most exceptionable, the HUNTING SONG at page 168, vol. II. may be well pardoned on account of the fuperior excellence of its composition to most others on the same subject: this description of songs being, in general, as utterly void of poetry, sense, wit, or humour, as the practice they are intended to celebrate, whether it be the diversion of the prince or the peasant, is irrational, savage, barbarous, and inhuman ti
* The distinction between Scotish and English fongs, it is conceived, arises-not from the language in which they are written, for that may be common to both, but- from the country to which they respectively belong, or of which their authors are natives. This discrimination does not so necessarily or properly apply to Ireland; great part of which was colonised from this kingdom, and the descendants of the settlers, the only civilised and cultivated inhabitants, have, consequently, been, ever since, looked upon as English: the native Iris being, to this day, a very different people. Every one has heard of the ENGLISH PALE.
+ It is hoped, however, that the editors partiality for the truly clašical performance which immediately precedes the last-mentioned song, will not be judged inconsistent with his abhorrence of its subject. He will avail hisself of this opportunity to remark, as rather a whimfical circumstance, that both these pieces have been commonly attributed to the ingenious mr. George Alexander Stevens; and, perhaps, with pretty equal justice: the first of them having been composed upwards of a century and a half ago, and the other not being inserted in his own publication of Songs comic and faryrical: the value of which work is not diminished by any tranfpofitions from it into the
The insertion of songs on political topics, the best of which are not only too temporary, but too partial to gain much applause when their subjects are forgotten, and their satire has lost its force, has here been studiously avoided. A composition, however, so humourously pointed as the VICAR OF BRAY, or so elegant and pathetic as Hosiers Ghost, may safely bid defiance to both age and oblivion: the one will continue to move our tenderest passions, and the other to excite a hearty laugh, so long as the language in which they are written shall be more than a name.
Songs on what is called Freemasonry seemed calculated rather to disgrace than to embellish the collection. The most favourite and admired compositions on this strange subject must necessarily appear absurd, conceited, enigmatic, and unintelligible, to those who have not had the supreme happiness to be initiated into the hallowed mysteries of this venerable society: and they who have will know where to find them.
Several pieces of some antiquity and great merit being here and there inserted, it has been attempted to point them out to the reader, by affixing the signature O. (old) to those which appear to have been composed, or rather first published, within the course of the last century; and the letters V. O. (very old) to such as were printed before its commencement; unless the name of the author ferved to ascertain the age of his song with greater propriety. The orthography of the whole collection will, however, it is believed, (except in a single instance *) be found reduced to a modern, correct and uniform standard throughout; so far, at leaft, as established corruptions, and natural prejudice would easily permit. It may be, likewise, proper to remark that there is no one song here publined, which was not in print before, although most of the manuscript
presin collection; though many of his spirited Bacchanalian lyrics would have done it the ulmost credit, had the editor thought hisself at liberty to make use of them. * Song LII. Part II.
collections in the Harleian and other libraries in the Museum were carefully consulted for materials, without any other success than as they fometimes afforded an improved reading, of which the editor has in a very few places, where emendation was absolutely necessary, availed hisself. It is not, however, by this meant to affert that no unpublished lyric poetry is to be met with in the above noble repositories: there is a prodigious quantity: but not a hngle tanza occurred of sufficient merit' to mingle with the elegancies of the present collection. It would not, perhaps, have been difficult to have procured original pieces in any number; but the editor could not, consistently with his respect for the public, obtrude upon them a single line, which had not been already stamped with their approbation, or on the merits of which they had not had an opportunity to decide. This collection does not, therefor, any way interfere with a publication of such songs as have not hitherto been communicated from the press.
What is already faid has been entirely confined to the three first parts of the collection ; of PART THE FOURTH, therefor, a considerable, at least interefting portion of the work, not to be found in any former compilation of this nature, it still remains to be spoken. This department is engrossed by a select number, indeed ALL THE Best, of our old popular tragic legends, and historical or heroic ballads: the genuine effusions of the English muse, unadulterated with the sentimental refinements of Italy or France. And without these (which would by no means assimilate or mix with the more polished contents of the preceding divisions) the collection, as professedly designed to comprehend every species of singing poetry, would, doubtless, have been imperfect. Every piece in this class has been transcribed from some old copy, generally in black letter; and has, in moft cafes, been collated with various others, preserved in different repositories. Many of them, however, ir must be confessed, are printed in the Reliques of ancient
English Poetry; a work which may, perhaps, be by some thought to have precluded every future attempt. But, in truth, there is not the leaft rivalship or even connection, between the two publications. And, indeed, if the contrary had been the case, the inaccurate, and sophisticated manner in which every thing that had real pretensions to antiquity, has been printed by the right reverend editor of that admired and celebrated work, would be a fufficient apology for any one who might undertake to publish more faithful, though, haply, less elegant copies*. No liberties, beyond a neceffary modernisa. tion of the orthography, have been taken with the language of these antique compofitions, unless in a few instances, where a manifest blunder of the press at once required and justified the correction. The reader must be, therefor, content to take them, as they were probably written,--at least, as they have come down to us,
With all their imperfections on their head. The arrangement of this part of the collection is, in miniature, as near as could be, that of the first and third. The names of authors could not be prefixed, because they are unknown in most instances, and only imperfectly guessed at in the rest. Nor has the editor made any attempt to ascertain or distinguish their different ages;
# The truth of this charge, which will not, it is believed, much surprise any person conversant in the illustrious editors authorities, may, on some future occasion, be more minutely exemplified, and satisfactorily proved. It will be, here, sufficient to observe, that frequent recourse has, in compiling materials for the present volumes, been necessarily had to many of the originals from which the Reliques are professedly printed; but not one has, upon examination, been found to be followed with either fidelity or correctness. That the above work is beautiful, elegant, and ingenious, it would be ridiculous to deny; but they who look into it to be acquainted with the ftate of ancient poetry, will be miserably disappointed or fatally misled. Forgery and imposition of every kind, ought to be universally execrated, and never more than when they are employed by perfons high in rank or character, and those very circumstances are made use of to fan&tify the deceit.