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If it be a just and praiseworthy desire in a cultivated and extensive mind to see foreign countries and foreign manners, that we may sbake off those narrow attachments and views of things, which a narrow scene and narrow acquaintance with the actions and customs of mankind almost necessarily generates, is not this desire as applicable to times as to countries? Does not the lapse of ages vary the modes and thoughts of the inhabitants of the world, as much as the diversity of scenes and climates? Is there not something still more worthy of a noble and refined curiosity, in unfolding the mantle of Time, in opening the grave, and bidding the dead speak ?
I have at length read so much of Elizabethan poetry, and Elizabethan biography, that all the wits of that age, all its genius, and all its state, seem to be brought upon the stage before me; and my eyes and my ears are full of their figures, and their language! Their modes of thinking; their feelings; their customs; their phraseology, are brought back to life, and offer themselves for a comparison with what I hear and see among my cotemporaries. I would not draw their “ frailties from their dread abode” in the tomb: but I delight to revive their virtues; and talk with their spirits, though their bones have long since mouldered into dust!
It would be an impertinent repetition, again to bring forward all the arguments which the Prefaces of the first Edition contain in favour of Bibliography. They are all preserved in those Prefaces now reprinted together; and will be a memorial of the ardour with which the Compiler has formerly persevered in these labours. If his time might have been better applied, and his energies directed in more congenial paths, regret is now worse than useless, because it can only give pain for that which cannot be undone. But what right has he to complain? The Public, by calling for a second Edition of this expensive Work, have been more indulgent to his humble efforts on this subject than they merit.
That a Work, of which the cost in resetting the press is so great, must, as it is confined to One Hundred Copies, always be of high price, cannot, he thinks, admit of any reasonable doubt.
Jan. 19, 1816.
S. E. B.
[The following Observations having been, by mistake,
omitted in their proper place (as prefatory to the Lives of Modern Poets, in Vol. VII.), it is thought advisable to print them here.]
The Lives of Poets consist principally of their works; for they are seldom much engaged in any other operations than those of the mind,
In an acute examination of their writings we shall probably derive a much more accurate and discriminative idea of their characters, than from the garrulous anecdotes of their superficial acquaintance; or a few accidental traits of singularities or defects.
It may gratify the envy and malignity which are too prevalent in mankind, to bring down those who have possessed exalted talents, to the common level; to tell depreciating stories ; and enforce a truth, we too well know, that the most eminent have had their hours of folly, if not of crime.
It shall be my endeavour to steer a different course. I trust that without running into fulsome panegyric I shall be able to treat genius with the reverence to which it is entitled, and bestow praise which will gain credit from the truth of its appropriation.
Experience proves, how seldom the various qualities,
which must combine to constitute a poet, occur. But if they, of whom I here propose to give some account, were not poets, those gifted Beings must be still rarer than even I have supposed.
Is there any thing in education, rank of life, or outward circumstances, nutritive of this faculty ? Let us examine the list of the principal ones who have died of late years. Two physicians, two lawyers, three clergymen, a Scotch professor, and a peasant! None of them, unless Cowper, of distinguished birth: and almost all poor.
The Reader will recollect that this was written in 1807; since which several eminent poetical writers have died, of whom, as it would be out of place to give a complete list here, any selected mention would be invidious.
VOLUME I. OF THE FIRST EDITION.
IN 1690 Sir Thomas Pope Blount published his “ Censura authorum cclebriorum," a work which is here mentioned, because the Editor of the present undertaking has chosen a title of some similitude. The object of that work was to bring together the opinions of the learned on the most distinguished writers of all countries from the earliest periods ; and the very accomplished and erudite compiler has accordingly produced a volume of great research, authority, and use.
In 1737 William Oldys published in six Numbers “the British Librarian, exhibiting a compendious Review or Abstract of our most scarce, useful, and valuable Books in all Sciences as well in manuscript as in print, with many characters, historical and critical, of their antagonists, &c.” Of this, Campbell, in his “ Rational Amusement,” speaks in the following terms : “ There was a design” says he, “set on foot some years ago which would have perfectly answered the purpose (of properly characterizing books); I mean the British Librarian," of which, however, there is but one volume, though nothing in that kind was ever so well received. If its author, who is of all men living the most capable, VOL. I.