תמונות בעמוד
[merged small][ocr errors]

ment on our political establishment must perceive, that the Saxon poetry has no connection with the nature and purpose of my present undertaking. Before the Norman accession, which succeeded to the Saxon goyernment, we were an unformed and an unsettled race. That mighty revolution obliterated almost all relation to the former inhabitants of this island; and produced that signal change in our policy, constitution and public manners, the effects of which have reached modern times. The beginning of these annals seems therefore to be most properly dated from that era, when our national character began to dawn.

It was recommended to me, by a person eminent in the republic of letters, totally to exclude from these volumes any mention of the English drama. I am very sensible that a just history of our Stage is alone sufficient to form an entire and extensive work; and this argument, which is by no means precluded by the attempt here offered to the public, still remains separately to be discussed, at large, and in form. But as it was professedly my intention to comprise every


Warton's History, the following what a "picture in little” does it
comment upon this passage may exhibit of morbid spleen!! Indeed,
serve as a sufficient sample. “It the critic seems totally to misap-
may seem (says the critic) a very prehend the drift of Mr. Warton's
extraordinary idea in a Christian reasoning: who only infers that
minister (and who is not only the when the Saxons were converted to
historian of poets but a poet him- Christianity, they lost all the wild
self) that these people could not imagery of their old superstitions;
have a poetical genius, because they and composed religious rhapsodies
were not pagans; and that religion in lieu of their native barbaric songs.
and poetry are incompatible.” How –See Gent. Mag. Nov. 1782, p.528.
pitiable was the temper which dic -Park.]
tated this forced inference; and

species of English Poetry, this, among the rest, of course claimed a place in these annals, and necessarily fell into my general design. At the same time, as in this situation it could only become a subordinate object, it was impossible I should examine it with that critical precision and particularity, which so large, so curious, and so important an article of our poetical literature demands and deseryes. To have considered it in its full extent, would have produced the unwieldy excrescence of a disproportionate episode : not to have considered it at all, had been an omission, which must detract from the integrity of my intended plan. I flatter myself however, that from evidences hitherto unexplored, I have recovered hints which may facilitate the labours of those, who shall hereafter be inclined to investigate the antient state of dramatic exhibition in this country, with due comprehension and accuracy.

It will probably be remarked, that the citations in the first volume are numerous, and sometimes very prolix. But it should be remembered, that most of these are extracted from antient manuscript poems never before printed, and hitherto but little known. Nor was it easy to illustrate the darker and more distant periods of our poetry, without producing ample specimens. In the mean time, I hope to merit the thanks of the antiquarian, for enriching the stock of our early literature by these new accessions : and I trust I shall gratify the reader of taste, in having so

frequently rescued from oblivion the rude inventions and irregular beauties of the heroic tale, or the romantic legend.

The design of the Dissertations is to prepare the reader, by considering apart, in a connected and comprehensive detail, some material points of a general and preliminary nature, and which could not either with equal propriety or convenience be introduced, at least not so formally discussed, in the body of the book; to establish certain fundamental principles to which frequent appeals might occasionally be made, and to clear the way for various observations arising in the course of my future inquiries.



History of English Poetry” assumes the first place in the catalogue of Warton's prose writings, and, to use the language of his biographer, “forms the most solid basis of his reputation.” Though not the only labour of his life, which embraces the study of early English poetry and antiquities, it is still the only one to which he devoted himself with the ardour inspired by a favourite occupation, or in which the nature of his subject allowed him a fair and appropriate field for the display of his genius, his erudition, and his taste. His other productions are either testimonials of what he felt due to his rank in his college, or the amusements in which an active mind indulges when relaxing from severer pursuits; and even much of his poetry contains but a varied disposition of the same imagery which enlivens the pages of his history. In this his most voluminous and most important work, he found a subject commanding all the resources of his richly stored and fertile mind; a task which had excited the attention of two distinguished poets', as an undertaking not unworthy of their talents; where the duties were arduous, the path untrodden, and not a little of public prejudice to subdue against the worth and utility of

· The reader will find Pope's plan of reasons for differing from his predeceshis projected history, enlarged by Gray, sors are given by Warton in the preface in Dr. Mant's Life of Warton. The to his first volume.

his object? But Warton was too much in love with his theme, and too confident in his own ability, to be dismayed by difficulties which industry might overcome, or opinions having no better foundation than vulgar belief unsupported by knowledge; and the success attendant upon the publication of his first volume, which speedily reached a second edition", encouraged him to persevere in his course. A second and a third volume appeared in due succession; a small portion of the fourth had been committed to the press, when death arrested his hand, just as he was entering on the most interesting and brilliant period of our poetic annals—the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

The comprehensive plan upon which Warton had commenced this work, so far exceeded his expectations of its possible extent, that though the original design was to have been completed in two volumes, there was still as much to do as had been accomplished, when his labours were thus abruptly terminated. Of this plan it had been a leading principle, that the historian was not to confine himself to the strict letter of his subject, a chronological account of poets and their writings, with an estimate of their merits or defects. The range of inquiry was to be extended further, beyond its obvious or perhaps its lawful limits; and the History of English Poetry to be made a channel for conveying information on the state of manners and customs among our feudal ancestry, the literature and arts of England and occasionally of Europe at large. A life longer than Warton's might have been unequal to the execution of such an extensive project; and there will be as many opinions upon the necessity of thus enlarging the boundaries of his theme, as of the manner in which he has acquitted himself in the undertaking. For while the general reader will complain of the frequent calls upon his patience

· Pope's sneers against “all such 3 This second edition is not a mere reading as was never read,” and “the reprint of the title-page; it is marked classics of an age that heard of none," by several typographical errors which do were still fresh in public recollection. not occur in the first.

« הקודםהמשך »