Page images
[merged small][ocr errors]


INCE Poetry affords young perfons an innocent pleasure, a tafte for it, under certain limitations, should be indulged. Why fhould they be forbidden to expatiate, in imagination, over the flowery fields of Arcadia, in Elyfium, in the Ifles of the Bleft, and in the Vale of Tempe? The harmless delight which they derive from Poetry, is furely fufficient to recommend an attention to it, at an age when pleasure is the chief purfuit, even if the fweets of it were not blended with utility.

If indeed pleasure were the ultimate object of Poetry, there are fome who, in the rigour of auftere wisdom, would maintain that the precious days of youth might be more advantageously employed than in cultivating a taste for it. To obviate their objections, it is neceffary to remind them, that Poetry has ever claimed the power of conveying inftruction, in the most effectual manner, by the vehicle of pleasure.

There is reafon to believe that many young perfons of natural genius would have given very little attention to learning of any kind, if they had been introduced to it by books appealing only to their reafon and judgment, and not to their fancy. Through the pleasant paths of Poetry they have been gradually led to the heights of fcience: they have been allured, on first setting out, by the beauty of the scene prefented to them, into a delightful land flowing with milk and honey; where, after having been nourished like the infant from the mother's breast, they have gradually acquired strength enough to relish and digest the folideft food of philofophy.

This opinion feems to be confirmed by actual experience; for the greatest men, in every liberal and honourable profeffion, have given their early years to the charms of Poetry. Many of the most illuftrious worthies in the church and in the state were allured to the land of learning by the fong of the Mufe; and they would perhaps have never entered it, if their preceptors had forbidden them to lend an ear. Of fo much confequence is the study of Poetry in youth to the general advancement of learning.

A 2


[ocr errors]


And as to morals, "Poetry," in the words of Sir Philip Sydney, "doth not "only fhew the way, but giveth fo fweet a profpect of the way, as will entice any man to enter into it; nay, the Poet doth, as if your journey fhould be through a fair vineyard, at the very first give you a clufter of grapes, that, "full of that taste, you may long to pafs farther. He beginneth not with ob"fcure definitions, but he cometh to you with words fet in delightful propor"tion, either accompanied with, or prepared for, the well-enchanting skill of "mufic;-and with a tale ;-he cometh unto you with a tale, which holdeth « children from play, and old men from the chimney-corner. Even those hard"hearted evil men, who think virtue a school-name, and despise the auftere "admonitions of the philofopher, and feel not the inward reasons they stand

upon, yet will be contented to be delighted; which is all the good fellow "Poet feems to promife; and fo fteal to see the form of goodness; which seen they cannot but love, ere themselves be aware, as if they took a medicine of “cherries.”


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Thus Poetry, by the gentle yet certain method of allurement, leads both to learning and to virtue. I conclude, therefore, that, under a few self-evident reftrictions, it is properly addrefled to all young minds, in the courfe of a liberal education.

It must be confeffed, at the fame time, that many fenfible men, both in the world and in the fchools of philofophy, have objected to an early ftudy of it. They have thought that a taste for it interfered with an attention to what they call the MAIN CHANCE. What poet ever fined for sheriff? says Oldham. It is feldom feen that any one difcovers mines of gold and filver in Parnaffus, fays Mr. Locke. Such ideas have predominated in the exchange and in the warehouse; and, while they continue to be confined to thofe places, may perhaps, in fome inftances, be advantageous. But they ought not to operate on the mind of the gentleman, or the man of a liberal profeflion; and indeed there is no good reason to be given why the mercantile claffes, at least of the higher order, fhould not amuse their leisure with any pleafures of polite literature.

That fome object to the study of Poetry as a part of education, is not to be wondered at, when it is confidered that many, from want of natural fenfibility, or from long habits of inattention to every thing but fordid intereft, are totally unfurnished with faculties for the perception of poetical beauty. But shall we deny that the cowflip and violet poffefs a vivid colour and sweet fragrance, because the ox who fattens in the meadow tramples over them without perceiving either their hues or their odours? The taste of mankind, from China to Peru, powerfully militates against the oppofers of Poetry.


Young minds have commonly a taste for Verfe. Unfeduced by the love of money, and unhacknied in the ways of vice, they are indeed delighted with nature and fact, though unembellished; becaufe all objects with them have the grace of novelty: but they are tranfported with the charms of Poetry, where the funshine of fancy diffufes over every thing the fine gloss, the rich colouring, of beautiful imagery and language. "Nature" (to cite Sir Philip Sydney again) "never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry as diverfe poets have done, "neither with so pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, fweet-fmelling flowers, nor "whatsoever may make the earth more lovely.-The world is a brazen world "-the poets only deliver a GOLDEN; which whoever diflike, the fault is in their "judgment, quite out of taste, and not in the fweet food of SWEETLY-UTTERED "KNOWLEDGE."

It will be readily acknowledged, that ideas and precepts of all kinds, whether of morality or science, make a deeper impreffion when inculcated by the vivacity, the painting, the melody of poetical language. And what is thus deeply impreffed will also long remain; for metre and rhyme naturally catch hold of the memory, as the tendrils of the vine cling round the branches of the elm.

Orpheus and Linus are recorded in fable to have drawn the minds of savage men to knowledge, and to have polished human nature, by Poetry. And are not children in the state of nature? And is it not probable that Poetry may be the best inftrument to operate on them, as it was found to be on nations in the favage ftate? Since, according to the mythological wisdom of the ancients, Amphion moved ftones, and Orpheus brutes, by music and verse, is it not reasonable to believe, that minds which are dull, and even brutally infenfible, may be penetrated, fharpened, foftened, and irradiated, by the warm influence of fine Poetry?

But it is really fuperfluous to expatiate either on the delight or the utility of Poetry. The fubject has been exhaufted; and, whatever a few men of little tafte and feeling, or of minds entirely fordid and fecular, may object, such are the charms of the Goddess, fuch her powerful influence over the heart of man, that she will never want voluntary votaries at her fhrine. The Author of Nature has kindly implanted in man a love of Poetry, to folace him under the labours and forrows of life. A great part of the Scriptures is poetry and verse. The wife fon of Sirach enumerates, among the most honourable of mankind, SUCH AS FOUND OUT MUSICAL TUNES, AND RECITED VERSES IN WRITING.

With refpect to this Compilation, the principal fubject of this Preface (but from which I have been feduced into a digreffion, by giving my suffrage in favour of the art I love)-if I fhould be asked what are its pretenfions, I must A 3


freely anfwer, that it profeffes nothing more than (what is evident at first fight) to be a larger Collection of English Verfe, FOR THE USE OF SCHOOLS, than has ever yet been published IN ONE VOLUME. The original intention was to comprife in it a great number and variety of fuch pieces as were already in use in schools, or which feemed proper for the use of them; fuch a number and variety as might furnish fomething fatisfactory to every tafte, and ferve as a little Poetical Library for fchool-boys, precluding the inconvenience and expence of

a multitude of volumes.

Such was the defign of the Publication. The Editor can claim no praise beyond that of the defign. The praise of ingenuity is all due to the Poets whofe works have supplied the materials. What merit can there be in directing a famous and popular paffage to be inferted from Shakspeare, Milton, Pope, Gray, and many others of lefs fame, indeed, but in great efteem, and of allowed genius? Their own luftre pointed them out, like ftars of the firft magnitude in the heavens. There was no occafion for fingular acuteness of vision, or for optical glaffes, to discover a brightness which obtruded itself on the eye. The best pieces are usually the most popular. They are loudly recommended by the voice of Fame; and her eulogy, when long continued, becomes an infallible guidance.

Utility and innocent entertainment are the fole defigns of the Editor; and if they are accomplished, he is fatisfied, and cheerfully falls back into the. fhade of obscurity. He is confident that the Book cannot but be useful and entertaining; but he is at the fame time fo little inclined to boast of his work, that he is ready to confess, that almost any man willing to incur a confiderable expence, and undergo a little trouble, might have furnished as good a collection.

As taste will for ever differ, fome may wish to have seen in it paffages from fome favourite, yet obfcure poet, and fome alfo from their own works; but it was the business of the Editor of a school-book like this, not to infert scarce and curious works, such as please virtuofo readers, chiefly from their rarity, but to collect fuch as were publicly known and univerfally celebrated. The more known, the more celebrated, the better they were adapted to this Collection; which is not defigned, like the leffons of fome dancing-mafters, for grown gentlemen, but for young learners only; and it will readily occur to every one, that what is old to men and women, may be, and for the most part must be, NEW to boys and girls receiving their education. Private judgment, in a work like this, must often give way to public. Some things are inferted in this Volume, entirely in fubmiffive deference to public opinion; which, when general and long continued,


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »