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My Bookseller having informed me that there was no collection of English Poetry among us, of any estimation, I thought a few hours spent in making a proper selection would not be ill bestowed.
Compilations of this kind are chiefly designed for such as either want leisure, skill, or fortune, to choose for themselves; for persons whose professions turn them to different pursuits, or who, not yet arrived at sufficient maturity, require a guide to di. rect their application. To our youth, particularly, a publication of this sort may be useful; since, if compiled with any share of judgment, it may at once unite precept and example, shew them what is beautiful, and inform them why it is so: I therefore offer this, to the best of my judgment, as the best collection that has as yet appeared; though, as tastes are various, numbers will be of a very different opinion. Many, perhaps, may wish to see in it the poems of their favourite authors, others may wish that I had selected from works less generally read, and others still may wish that I had selected from their own, But my design was to give a useful, unaffected compilation; one that might tend to advance the reader's taste, and not impress him with exalted ideas of mine. Nothing is so common, and yet so absurd, as affectation in criticism. The desire of being thought to have a more discerning taste than others,
has often led writers to labour after error, and to be foremost in promoting deformity.
In this compilation I run but few risques of that kind; every poem here is well known, and possessed, or the public has been long mistaken, of peculiar merit; every poem has, as Aristotle expresses it, a beginning, a middle, and an end, in which, however trifling the rule may seem, most of the poetry in our language is deficient: I claim no merit in the choice, as it was obvious, for in all languages best productions are most easily found. As to the short introductory criticisms to each poem, they are rather designed for boys than men; for it will be seen that I declined all refinement, satisfied with being obvious and sincere. In short, if this work be useful in schools, or amusing in the closet, the merit all belongs to others; I have nothing to boast, and a best can expect, not applause, but pardon.
THE RAPE OF THE LOCK. This seems to be Mr. Pope's most finished production, and is, perhaps, the most perfect in our language. It exhibits stronger powers of imagination, more harmony of numbers, and a greater knowledge of the world, than any other of this Poet's Works: and it was probable, if our country were called upon toshew a specimen of their genius to foreigners, this would be the work here fixed
upon, IL PENSEROSO. I have heard a very judicious Critic say, that he had an higher idea of Milton's stile in poetry, from the two following poems, than from his Paradise Lost. It is certain the imagination shewn in them is correct and strong. The introduction to both in irregular measure is borrowed from the Italians, and hurts an English ear.
WRITTEN IN A COUNTRY CHURCH-YARD.
This is a very fine poem, but overloaded with epithet. The heroic measure with alternate rhime is very properly adapted to the solemnity of the subject, as it is the slowest movement that our language admits of. The latter part of the poem
pathetic and interesting.
IN IMITATION OF THE THIRD SATIRE OF JUVENAL.
This poem of Mr. Johnson's is the best imitation of the original that has appeared in our language, being possessed of all the force and satyrical resentment of Juvenal. Imitation gives us a much truer idea of the ancients than even translation could do.
THE SCHOOL MISTRESS,
IN IMITATION OF SPENSER.
This poem is one of those happinesses in which a poet excels himself, as there is nothing in all Shenstone, which any way approaches it in merit; and, though I dislike the imitations of our old English poets in general, yet on this minute subject the antiquity of the style produces a very ludicrous solemnity.
COOPER'S HILL. This poem by Denham, though it may have been exceeded by later attempts in description, yet deserves the highest applause, as it far surpasses all that went before it: the concluding part, though a little too much crowded, is very masterly.
ELOISA TO ABELARD. The harmony of numbers in this poem is very fine. It is rather drawn out to too tedious a length, although the passions vary with great judgment. It may be considered as superior to any thing in the epistolary way; and the many translations which have been made of it into the modern languages, are in some measure a proof of this. AN EPISTLE FROM MR. PHILIPS
EARL OF DORSET. The opening of this poem is incomparably fine. The latter part is tedious and trifling.
A LETTER FROM ITALY,
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE CHARLES LORD HALIFAX, 1701. Few poems have done more honour to English genius than this. There is in it a strain of political
thinking thinking that was, at that time, new in our poetry. Had the harmony of this been equal to that of Pope's versification, it would be incontestibly the finest poem in our language; but there is a dryness in the numbers, which greatly lessens the pleasure excited both by the Poet's judginent and imagination.
POWER OF MUSIC.
AN ODE, IN HONOUR OF ST. CECILIA'S DAY. This ode has been more applauded, perhaps, than it has been felt ; however, it is a very fine one, and gives its beauties rather at a third or fourth than at a first perusal.
ODE FOR MUSIC ON ST. CECILIA'S DAY.
This ode has by many been thought equal to the former. As it is a repetition of Dryden's manner, it is so far inferior to him. The whole hint of Orpheus, with many of the lines, has been taken from an obscure Ode upon Music, published in Tate's Miscellanies.
THE SHEPHERD'S WEEK,
IN SIX PASTORALS.
These are Mr. Gay's principal performance. They were originally intended, I suppose, as a bura lesque on those of Philips ; but, perhaps without designing it, he has hit the truespirit of pastoral poetry. In fact he more resembles Theocritus than any other English pastoral writer whatsoever. There runs through the whole a strain of rustic pleasantry, which should ever distinguish this species of compo: sition; but how far the antiquated expressions used