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SINCE Poetry affords young persons an innocent pleasure, a taste for it, under certain limitations, should be indulged. Why should they be forbidden to expatiate, in imagination, over the flowery fields of Arcadia, in Elysium, in the Isles of the Blest, and in the Vale of Tempe? The harmless delight which they derive from Poetry, is surely sufficient to recommend an attention to it, at an age when pleasure is the chief pursuit, even if the sweets of it were not blended with utility.
If indeed pleasure were the ultimate object of Poetry, there are some who, in the rigour of austere 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 necessary to remind them, that Poetry has ever claimed the power of conveying instruction, in the most effectual manner, by the vehicle of pleasure,
There is reason to believe that many young persons 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 reason and judgment, and not to their fancy. Through the pleasant paths of Poetry they have been gradually led to the heights of science: they have been allured, on first setting out, by the beauty of the scene presented to them, into a delightful land, flowing with milk and honey; where, after having been nourished like the infant at the mother's breast, they have gradually acquired strength enough to relish and d.gest the olidest food of philosophy.
This opinion seems to be confirmed by actual experience; for the greatest mn, in every liberal and honourable profession, gave their early years to the charms of Poetry. Many of the most illustrious worthies in the church and in the state were allured to the land of learning by the song of the Muse; and they
they would perhaps have never entered it, if their preceptors had forbidden them to lend an ear. Of so much consequence is the study of Poetry in youth to the general advancement of learning.
And as to morals, "Poetry," in the words of Sir Philip Sydney, "doth not "only shew the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect of the way, as will entice "any man to enter into it; nay, the Poet doth, as if your journey should be "through a fair vineyard, at the very first give you a cluster of grapes, that, "full of that taste, you may long to pass farther. He beginneth not with obseure definitions, but he cometh to you with words set in delightful pro. "portion, either accompanied with, or prepared for, the well-enchanting skill "of music ;--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 austere "admonitions of the philosopher, and feel not the inward reasons they stand "upon, yet will be contented to be delighted; which is all the good fellow "Poet seems to promise; and so steal to see the form of goodness; which seen "they cannot but love, ere themselves be aware, as if they took a medicine of " cherries."
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 reflections, it is properly addressed to all young minds, in the course of a liberal education.
It must be confessed, at the same time, that many sensible men in the world, as well as in the schools of philosophy, have objected to an early study 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 seldom seen that any one discovers mines of gold and silver in Parnassus, says Mr. Locke. Such ideas have predominated in the exchange and in the warehouse; and, while they continue to be confined to those places, may perhaps, in some instances, be proper and advantageous. But they ought not to operate on the mind of the well-educated gentleman, or the mau of a liberal profession; and indeed there is no good reason to be given why the mercantile classes, at least of the higher order, should not amuse their leisure with any pleasures of polite literature,
That mere men of the world object to the study of Poetry as a part of education, is not to be wondered at, when it is considered that many, from want of natural sensibility, or from long habits of inattention to every thing but sordid interest, are totally unfurnished with faculties for the perception of poetical
beanty. But shall we deny that the cowslip and violet possess a vivid colour and sweet fragrance, because the ox who fattens in the meadow tramples over then without perceiving either their hues or their odours? The taste of manLind, from China to Peru, powerfully militates against the few and narrowminded opposers of Poetry.
Young minds, indeed, have commonly a taste for Verse. Unseduced by the love of money, and unhacknied in the ways of vice, they are, it is true, delighted with nature and fact, though unembellished; because all objects with them have the grace of novelty: but they are transported with the charms of Poetry where the sunshine of fancy diffuses over every subject 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 divers pocts "have done, neither with so pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, sweet smelling flowers, "nor whatsoever may make the earth more lovely. The world is a brazen "world-the poets only deliver a GOLDEN; which whoever dislike, the fault is “ in their judgment, quite out of taste, and not in the sweet 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 impression when inculcated by the viva. city, the painting, the melody of poetical language. And what is thus deeply impressed 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 sa◄ vage 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 instrument to operate on them, as it was found to be on nations in the savage state? Since, according to the mythological wisdom of the ancients, Amphion moved stones, and Orpheus brutes, by music and verse, is it not reasonable to believe, that minds which are dull, and even brutally insensible, may be penetrated, sharpened, softened, and vivified, by the warm infuence of fine Poetry?
But it is really superfluous to expatiate either on the delight or the utility of Poetry. The subject has been exhausted; and, whatever a few men of little taste and feeling, or of minds entirely sordid and secular, may object, such arc the charms of the Goddess, such her powerful influence over the heart of man, that she will never want voluntary votaries at her shrine. The Author of Nature has kindly implanted in man a love of Poetry, to solace him under the labours and sorrows of life. A great part of the Scriptures is poetry and verse
The wise son of Sirach enumerates, among the most honourable of mankind, SUCH AS FOUND OUT MUSICAL TUNES, AND RECITED VERSES IN WRITING.
With respect to this Compilation, the principal subject of this Preface (but from which I have been seduced into a digression, by giving my suffrage in favour of the art I love)-if I should be asked what are its pretensions, I must freely answer, that it professes nothing more than (what is evident at first sight) to be a larger Collection of English Verse, FOR THE USE OF SCHOOLS, than has ever yet been published IN ONE VOLUME. The original intention was to comprise in it a great number and variety of such pieces as were already in use in schools, or which seemed proper for the use of them; such a number and variety as might furnish something satisfactory to every taste, and serve as a little Poetical Library for school-boys, precluding the inconvenience and expence of a multitude of volumes.
Such was the design of the Publication. The Editor can claim no praise beyond that of the design. The praise of ingenuity is all due to the Poets whose works have supplied the materials. What merit can there be in directing a famous and popular passage to be inserted from Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Gray, and many others of less fame, indeed, but in great esteem, and of allowed genius? Their own lustre pointed them out, like stars of the first magnitude. in the heavens. There was no occasion for singular acuteness of vision, or for optical glasses, 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 sole designs of the Editor; and if they are accomplished, he is satisfied, and cheerfully falls back into the shade of obscurity. He is confident that the Book cannot but be useful and entertaining; but he is at the same time so little inclined to boast of his work, that he is ready to confess, that almost any man willing to incur a considerable expence, and undergo a little trouble, might have furnished as good a collection.
As taste will for ever differ, some may wish to have seen in it passages from some favourite, yet obscure poet, and some also from their own works; but it was the business of the Editor of a school-book like this, not to insert scarce and curious works, such as please virtuoso realers, chiefly from their rarity, but to collect such as were publicly known and universally celebrated. The more known, the more celebrated, the better they were adapted to this Collection; which is not designed, like the lessons of some dancing-masters, for grown gen.
Clemen, 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, mast often give way to public. Some things are inserted in this Volume, entirely in submissive deference to public opinion; which, when general and long con. tinued, is the best criterion of merit in the fine arts, and particularly in Poetry. Whatever was found in previous collections, which experience had pronounced proper for schools, has been freely taken and admitted: the stamp of experience gave it currency. The freedom of borrowing, it is hoped, will be pardoned, as the collectors, with whom it has been used, first set the example of it.
It is unnecessary, and perhaps might be deemed impertinent, to point out the mode of using the Collection to the best advantage. It is evident that it may be used in schools either in recitation, transcription, the exercise of the memory, or in imitation. It furnishes an abundance of models, which are the best means of exciting genius. Such Arts of Poetry as those of Gildon, Bysshe, Newbery, and their imitators, effect but little in the dry method of technical precept; and the young Poet, like the Sculptor, will improve most by working after a model. It is evident that this Collection may be usefully read at ENGLISH SCHOOLS, in the classes, just as the Latin and Greek authors are read at the grammar-schools by explaining every thing grammatically, historically, metrically, and critically, and then giving a portion to be learned by memory. The Book, it is hoped, will be particularly agrecable and useful in the private studies of the amiable young student, whose first love is the love of the Muse, and who courts her in his summer's walk, and in the solitude of his winter retreat, or at the social domestic fire-side.
In the latter part many little pieces are admitted, mere lusus poetici, chiefly for the diversion of the student, which almost require an apology. They are, it must be confessed, no more than flowerets at the bottom of Parnassus ; but it is hoped, that their admission will be approved, as they may gradually lead the scholar to ascend higher up the hill, who might have been deterred from approaching it if he had seen nothing in the whole prospect but the selline, the solemn, and the sombrous.
The reader will have no cause to complain, if instead of Extracts, he often fnds poems inserted entire. This has been done whenever it seemed consistent with the design, and could be done without injustice. In this matter, the opinion of those who must be supposed best qualified to give it, was asked and followed. The wish was to take nothing but what seemed to lie on the common, relinished or neglected by the lord of the manor.