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LEGE AND SOTHEBY :
R. FAULDER AND SON ; G. NICOL AND SON; T. PAYNE; G. ROBINSON; WILKIE AND
194; 1. KONS; LACKINGTON, ALLEN, AND CO.; J. STOCKDALE; CUTHELL AND MARTIN ; CLARKE AND SONS ;
1. EICHARDSON ; J. CARPENTER; B. CROSBY; E. JEFFERY ; J. MURRAY ; W. MILLER ; J. AND A. ARCH , BLACK,
HE Preface to a collection like the present, necessarily involves an attempt to apologize for its defects, and from this some degree of egotism is inseparable. Candour, however, will not fail to make liberal allowance for the many difficulties which surround an undertaking of this magnitude: and it is hoped that the excuses which are offered, if not satisfactory, will at least be received as marks of respect. The labour of some years in forming this collection has been exerted with an anxious desire that it may prove worthy of public favour, but at the conclusion of the task, cannot flatter myself that I have succeeded in forming the best plan, or in executing the plan which I formed.
The fate of the few collections which have been made of this ind readily pointed out that the objections of critics would be directed, either against redundancy, or defect, and it is as likely hat I shall be blamed for admitting too many, as for admitting Do few, into a work prosessing to be a Body OF THE STANDARD ENGLISH Poets. It cannot, however, be unknown to those who lave paid any attention to the subject, that the question of too buch or too little in these collections, does not depend on the previous consideration of the merit of the poet, so frequently as in the relative rank which he seems destined to hold among bis rethren. Some may be admissible in a series, who would make put an indifferent figure by themselves, and it is not improbable bat by perpetuating editions in this manner, the fame that has kunk in one revolution of taste may be revived in another.
There are perhaps but two rules by which a collector of English poetry can he guided. He is either to give a series of the best poets, or of the most POPULAR, but simple as these rules may appear
, they are not without difficulties, for whichever we choose
to rely upon, the other will be found to interfere. In the first instance, the question will be perpetually recurring “who are the best poets?” and as this will unavoidably involve all the disputed points in poetical criticism, and all the partialities of individual taste, an editor must pause before he venture on a decision from which the appeals will be numerous and obstinately contested.
On the other hand, he will not find much more security in popularity, which is a criterion of uncertain duration, sometimes depending on circumstances very remote from taste or judgment, and, unless in some few happy instances, a mere fashion. Ang bookseller can tell an editor that popularity will frequently elude his grasp, if he waits for the decision of time; that authors, popular within the memory of some of the present generation are no longer read, and that others who seemed on the brink o oblivion, if not sunk in its abyss, have by some accountable o unaccountable revival, become the standing favourites of the day It has often been objected to Dr. Johnson's Collection, that it in cludes authors who have few admirers, and it is an objectio which perhaps gains strength by time, but it ought always to bi remembered, that the collection was not formed by that illustriot scholar, but by his employers, who thought themselves, what the unquestionably were, the best judges of vendible poetry, ar who included very few, if any, works in their series for whi there was not, at the time it was formed, a considerable degree demand.
Aware of the difficulties of adding to that collection witho reviving the usual objections, what is now presented to the pub could never have been formed, had I imposed on myself the teri either of abstract merit, or of popular reception. When appli to, therefore, by the proprietors, and left at liberty, generally, form a collection of the more ancient poets to precede Dr. Jol son's series, and of the more recent authors to follow it, I c ceived that it would be proper to be guided by a mixed rule admitting the additions from these two classes. Although question of popularity seemed necessary and decisive in selecti from the vast mass of poetical writers since the publication Dr. Johnson's volumes, yet in making up a catalogue of the ol poets, it was requisite to advert to the only uses which suc