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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 celebriorum," 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 an'swered 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,
would pursue and perfect this plan, he would do equal justice to the living and to the dead.”
In 1772, the late Lord Orford gave to the world two Numbers of a work, entitled “ Miscellaneous Antiquities; or, a collection of curious papers, either republished from scarce Tracts, or now first printed from Original MSS.” “The Numbers," says the Advertisement, “ will not appear with periodic regularity, but as it shall suit the leisure and conve. nience of the gentlemen who have undertaken the work, which is in imitation of Peck's Desiderata Curiosa, and is solely calculated for amusement; for which reason the Editors make no promises, enter into no engagements; but shall take the liberty of continuing, varying, or dropping the plan, when and in what manner they please; a notice they think right to give, that no man may complain hereafter of being disappointed.”
The object of the present undertaking is to combine some of the advantages of all these works. But the Editor, living at a distance from the Capital, having only the amusement of literary occupation in view, and being often distracted by other pressing avocations, will neither engage for regular periods of publication, nor be unalterably confined to any plan. He is aware, that what he has to offer will be principally adapted to the curious; and therefore he has printed but a moderate number of copies. Under these circumstances, but still more, if this small impression should not find purchasers, he will consider himself free to drop, at any time, this attempt to convey harmless information or pleasure.
But should it, contrary to his expectations, receive encouragement, he trusts to the assistance of his lite. rary friends, more especially for the titles and abstracts of scarce books, and original lives of unjustly neglected authors. And in that case no literary discussion will be unacceptable to these pages.
The Editor cannot avoid thinking that while eight or ten Reviews are supported in giving accounts (often ridiculously opposite) of new books, one su ly may usefully be occupied in reviving the treasures of past ages.
Such was the plan originally designed for this publication; but the first sheet had not been worked off at the press, when, by the urgent advice of friends, it was altered and enlarged. The size has been augmented, and the number of copies, which was originally so small, as, even after the sale of the whole, to have subjected the Editor, in the progress of the work, to a great loss, has been moderately increased. But whether this undertaking, commenced from the purest love of literature, and executed hitherto in hurry and distraction, will support itself, seems a matter of serious doubt.
The Editor does not hesitate to acknowledge (what it consoles his pride to recollect that even Johnson had once occasion to confess *), that “he has never been much a favourite with the public." But, like Johnson, he may honestly say, that he “ has never descended to the arts by which favour
* Rambler, No. 208.
is” generally “ obtained.” All the meretricious tricks by which the praises of originality, invention, and genius, are usurped in these days by a succession of meteor-like authors, he has uniformly despised and rejected; and read with mingled emotions of pity and indignation the encomiums bestowed by half-witted and mercenary critics on the tinsel and sickly efforts of impure and degenerate ingenuity.
To call back the notice of the Public to the productions of chaster days; to disperse those clouds of time which have enveloped the memory of a deserving writer; to bring the past into a comparison with the
present; to range at once over the whole field of a nation's literature,
Glancing from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven," and to array the authors of Elizabeth and James I. with those of the last and present century, is at least a pleasing, and may be an useful, exercise of cultivated minds.
But it is a task, perhaps, which may be reserved for more fortunate men to perform : it is probable that the attempt on his part may soon become a matter of unjustifiable imprudence: and the Editor's anxious wishes to obtain an opportunity of imparting innocent pleasure by the communication, at more favourable moments, of those intellectual stores which a life of study and reflection has collected, may be nipped in the bud. If there be any who know under what depressions of sorrow, in what sufferings from the poisoned arrows of ingratitude and malice, and the greedy fangs of rapacity, the first number has been collected,' and carried