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N an age advanced to the highest degree of re
finement, that species of curiosity commences, which is busied in contemplating the progress of social life, in displaying the gradations of science, and in tracing the transitions from barbarism to civility.
That these speculations should become the savourite pursuits, and the fashionable topics, of such a period, is extremely natural. We look back on the savage condition of our ancestors with the triumph of superiority; we are pleased to mark the steps by which we have been raised from rudeness to elegance: and our reflections on this subject are accompanied with a conscious pride, arising, in great measure, from a tacit comparison of the infinite disproportion. between the feeble efforts of remote ages, and our present improvements in knowledge.
In the mean time, the manners, monuments, customs, practices, and opinions of antiquity, by forming so strong a contrast with those of our own times, and by exhibiting human nature and human inventions in new lights, in unexpected appearances, and in various forms, are objects which forcibly strike
On these principles, to develope the dawnings of l genius, and to pursue the progress of our national
poetry, from a rude origin and obscure beginnings,_
3' to its perfection in a polished age, must prove an interestingand instructive investigation. But a history of poetry, for another reason, yet on the same principles, must be more especially productive of entertainment and utility. Imean, as it is an art, whose object is human society: as it has the peculiar merit, 'in its operations on that object, of faithfully recording the features of the times, and of pre
design, and my readers are to decide in what degree
disquisition. Yet a few more words will not be perhaps improper, in vindication, or rather in explanation, of the manner in which 'my work has been conducted. I am sure I do not mean, nor can
I pretend, to apologise for its defects.
Ihave chose to exhibit 'the history of our poetry in a chronological series: not distributing my matter into detached articles, of periodical divisions, or of general heads. Yet I have not always adhered so fcrupuloufiy to the regularity of annals, but that I
'have often deviated into incidental digressions; and 'have sometimes stopped in the course of my career, for the sake of recapitulation, sor the purpose of i collecting sciattered notices into a single and uniform i point of view, for the more exact inspection of a topic which required a separate consideration, or for a comparative survey of the poetry of other nations.
A few years ago, Mr. MASON, with that liberality which evere accompanies true genius, gave me an authentic copy of Mr. POPE's scheme of a History of English Poetry, in which our poets were classed under theirv supposed respective schools. The late lamented Mr. GRAY had also projected a work of this kind, and translated some Runic odes for its illustration, now published: but soon relinquishing the prosecution of a design, which would have detained him from his own noble inventions, he most obligingly condescended to favour me with the substance of his plan, which I found to be that of Mr. POPE, considerably enlarged, extended, and improved.
It is vanity in me to have mentioned these communications. But I am apprehensive my vanity will justly be thought much greater, when it shall appear, that in giving the history of English poetry,
' I have