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A Few words will suffice for the Preface of this Second Edition of Censura Literaria. The Prefaces to the successive Volumes of the former Edition will shew its original progress, and the views and feelings of the Editor. The materials that he thus gradually accumulated, to an extent which on a retrospect excites his own astonishment, but which were necessarily collected without order, are now disposed in a chronological series, under their proper classes.' This, with all the Indexes gathered into one, will very materially improve the
Work for the purposes of reference, and embody, in a regular form, a store of information, illustrative of the literary antiquities of England, too various ever to lose its value. The fatigue of carrying through the press, a second time, this multifarious matter, in its nature dry and repulsive, has been great; and if the Editor's attention to it has sometimes, amid his various avocations of an uncongenial kind, slumbered, no liberal critic will accuse him of unvenial errors.
It is difficult to attract the notice of readers of a lively and animated turn, to this sort of lore. But still these Volumes deal principally with that kind of literature, which is of all others the most interesting and delightful. Poetry forms the principal head of the works here registered. With what sentiments this study ought to be pursued, and of what instruction it may be productive, the Editor has expressed in a paper in the former impression, with more energy than he probably could exert at the present moment, and therefore considers this the best place in which he can reprint it.
(Originally prefixed to Vol. X. of the former
A PERFECT collection of all the English poetry published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, would be an invaluable treasure, not only for curiosity, but for use. It is in poets that we must study all the varieties of language, all the force of words, both singly and in combination; and all the energy and vivacity of ideas. That bright mirror of things, which exists in the poet's brain, reflects them back with a proportionate clearness and brilliance of expression.
The difficulty of attaining a large portion of these volumes has rendered it necessary to recur to modern compilations of selections and extracts from them, made by the honourable industry of those, whose love of literature combined with opportunity has stimulated their researches in these obsolete and forbidding tracks of study. The taste of the public has kept pace with the labours of these, bibliographers and critics. We have seen the fashion for black letter reading increase in the last ten years with wonderful celerity. It has given a new cast to our modern compositions in
verse; extended their subjects; enlarged their phraseology; varied and enriched their imagery; and brought back their productions nearer to the vigorous simplicity of better days.
However uninviting the black-letter page, with its reduudant spelling, and its unusual or strangely-accented words, may appear at first, a little practice reconciles us to these objections. We then find a new delight in the contrast with modern modes of communicating our thoughts: forms of phrase, which have lost all force from their triteness, are relieved by new combinations; and the operations of the mind seem to derive an infusion of vigour from the new light in which they are clothed,
The generous and enlarged intellect swells with a proud satisfaction at thus having spread before it all the stores of the most cultivated geniuses of its country for centuries back. All literary merit is relative: the products of a single age may be puny when compared with those of others; but when the standard of comparison is extended to those of every age of a country since the revival of letters, the most inquisitive and hesitating research must be satisfied. It may proceed to draw results with a confidence, which future facts will not be likely to disturb. The experience, with which it will be furnished, will shew, with almost unerring certainty, what are the vital ingredients in a composition which will preserve its fame to future ages,