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In presenting this little Collection to the Public, the Editor begs leave, in the first instance, to refer to a previous announcement, of its being conducted, as far as the subject would admit, on a MORAL plan; or, at the least, with an exclusion of all articles of a directly exceptionable character. At the same time, it is hoped that no candid and intelligent Reader will mistake this for an unqualified panegyric on its contents; or subject that to a rigid assay, which was never intended for, and consequently never can come forth as, pure and unmixed metal.
It is well known that this description of Poetry possesses to many minds, and particularly to those of the young, peculiar charms; it is also a fact which may easily be verified by observation, that in no previous selection of this kind, has any discretion been exercised as to the general character and effect of their miscellaneous contents. To render, then, that which is popular, at least comparatively innocent, is surely an object which a superior mind might not consider beneath its notice;—and in this view of the subject, the Editor has had the satisfaction of coinciding with the ideas of a high Ecclesiastical character, but whose name he is not at liberty here to mention. Such then has been his prevailing design in the production of this little Volume; and whether or not he shall be pronounced by rigid, or lenient criticism, to have attained his object, he feels conscious that, to the best of his humble abilities, no care or pains have been spared in pursuing it.
About one third of the Ballads in this Collection, have been taken from “Percy's Reliques,” * and the rest from the most esteemed Authors and Compilers ; upwards of Forty Volumes having been consulted for that purpose. The spelling in the older Ballads has been modernized ;-a liberty which the scrupulous antiquary may well excuse, in consideration of the additional facility and pleasure which is thus afforded to the mass of general readers. Whilst, at the same time, the original style and idiom has either been minutely preserved, or with such a trifling deviation as may fairly dispense with the necessity of apology.
* This work was first published in the year 1765, in 3 vols. 8vo. Dr. Percy was, in 1778, appointed Dean of Carlisle ; and in 1782, Bishop of Dromore in Ireland, where he died in 1811, in his 83rd year;-having nobly signalized himself in the employments of a more mature age, and an exalted station; and leaving a character for piety, liberality, and benevolence, to which ample testimony was borne by all classes and descriptions of men.
The notes, which have been partly abridged from the Authors themselves, and otherwise gleaned from a few common works of History and Antiquities, are added for the convenience of such readers as are not particularly conversant with the subjects in question. To the “ Esoteric” disciples of Antiquity, to whom the Editor himself is as one of the uninitiated, this will doubtless be a sufficient excuse; and should there be any Readers to whom they are no objects of interest, they may, at all events, pass them over, without notice or interruption.
It should not be here suppressed, that a charge of want of fidelity and undue alteration has been made against Dr. Percy, in his publication of these ancient pieces of Poetry. In the treatment, however, which they received at his hands, they have no farther been removed from originality, than Dr. WARTON describes all the Metrical Romances now to be.
“ They have been divested of their original form, polished in their styles, adorned with new incidents, successively modernized by repeated transcription and recitation, and retaining little more than the outlines of the original.” And a small portion only of this process is attributable to Dr. Percy. He became possessed, from the gift of a friend, of a manuscript folio of ballads, the contents of which fortunately falling into the hands of a man whose taste and elegance have rarely been exceeded, they underwent a certain degree of polish, which yet did not impair their primary lineaments; and the breaches made by time were so
carefully repaired, that the additions are scarcely discernible. Had there been no envy or malice in the case, this would have been deemed an excellence; but the heart of his great opponent, Mr. Ritson, had in it unfortunately a very large proportion of these ingredients, to which were superadded much grossness and impiety. A few others of the Ancient Ballads remain unaltered, as they were written-from the era of Queen Elizabeth to about the middle of the seventeenth century.
In order to make this a National Selection, all compositions (with one or two exceptions only) have been excluded in which the scene is laid in foreign countries; and also translations from foreign languages, which are now numerous, and some of them very beautiful. Nor was it possible to include in this volume half the beauties of British Ballads. Should, therefore, the Public receive with favour this one of the novitiatory efforts of a young Author, it may probably lead to the production of a Second Volume, from these united sources, as a sequel to the present, and of the same size and character.