« AnteriorContinuar »
fashion, will undoubtedly, in the supremacy of his ignorant conceit, look upon the uncouth phraseology of former centuries with unqualified scorn! But perhaps the self-applauding confidence of this vivacious critic will weigh but a little in the determination of the question ! The value depends on other qualities than he can apprehend; and other principles of judgment than his powers can reach ! · In what single library, private or public, can be found all the curious volumes which the British BIBLIOGRAPHER has recorded? Or if they could all be found concentered in one rich depository, is there no use in extending two-hundred-fold notices of their titles, and specimens of their contents ?
It is not impossible that the greater part of the volumes here registered may be already known to some of those who have for years constantly frequented sale-rooms of books in the metropolis; but of those who are inquisitive on these subjects, how few have leisure or opportunity to frequent sale-rooms; and of these few how small a portion have the desire or the talent to collect for any other than a selfish gratification !
When the writer of this preface looks back on the curious contents of these volumes, (of which he may be entitled thus to speak because scarcely any of them proceeded from himself) he cannot refrain from pointing out with some satisfaction, that patient and indefatigable industry, which could by laborious transcription rescue specimens of so many rare books, before they passed into libraries, where it might be difficult to consult, and whither it might sometimes be not easy even to trac them. For many valuable tracts, besides those which luckily pass into the hands of known collectors, float for
a day on the market, and then pass into sonie secret treasure house, where perhaps they lie hidden to all but the retired owner.
" And if all these things, with all that the Bibliographer and Censura Literaria have endeavoured to rescue from a just oblivion; if all that the black-letter has stained with its ugly impression,” eries some pert witling, “ were burnt in the next clearing fire of the metropolis, what would literature lose?” I leave him to enjoy the triumphant wisdom of his question; or to seek for other answerers than him who has spent nine years* in the toil of these pursuits !
Hereafter as these relics of ancient genius and ancient Jearning, or ancient pedantry, these examples of the progress of language, these memorials of long past manners and customs, become every day more rare and difficult of access, the British BIBLIOGRAPHER, which has collected so many notices and extracts of them, will at least continue to possess an interest and an use, of which, they, whose approbation is most to be coveted, have already had the candour to give it the credit.
If the Editors, attracted by the curiosity of the subject, have dealt rather in extracts than in original criticisms, they do not think they have performed a less useful, because it has been a more humble task. As long as the materials forced themselves in such abundance on their hands, their time has been too much occupied in gathering, to allow them leisure to build with them. Let those who find these pages dry and repulsive, and devoid of data for interesting reflection, keep aloof from them! They are not arrived at that degree of mental cultivation and curiosity which fits them for these studies !
• The Censura Literaria commenced with the year 1805.
For the Bibliography of old English poetry, which had been begun by William Oldys, had been pursued by Thomas Warton and Bishop Percy, been continued by George Steevens and Edmund Malone, and taken up with minutc labour and dry perseverance by Joseph Ritson, very ainple and not easily exhausted matter may be found in the Censura Literaria, and in the present work.
During the period that these works have been passing the press, the spirit of research in this line has increased to a degree which has excited much wonder, and some ridicule. The mania may, in some instances, raise a well-founded smile; but that its effects have been altogether beneficial to literature, I cannot doubt. An undistinguishing admiration of that which is old, and a desire of possessing rarities, which arises from a mean vanity, are foibles which may be condemned, but are of little injury to the public. On the other hand, the advantages to literature, derivable from this curiosity, are numerous and permanent. If the labours of ihe present Editors have contributed to that curiosity, the retrospect will amply repay them for the years consumed in the pursuit.
If ever a full Bibliographical Catalogue of English Literature, up to the close of the 17th century, which is at present a most important desideratum, shall be executed, the Censura Literaria, combined with the labours of Wood, Tanner, Ames, Herbert, Warton, and Dibdin, will go far in furnishing the necessary materials.
Nor will a candid and reflecting judgment refuse to admit, that something has been added to our nalional stores of intellect by the entire reprints which have formed part of the present miscellany. The Paradise of Dainty Devises, England's Helicon, Tusser's Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, in their original text ; with John Higgins's part of The Mirror for Mcgistrates, all of them books of uncommon rarity and great intrinsic merit, have opened to the literati, who are inquisitive in this department, treasures which had bitherto been sealed.
“Thus to reply to anticipated objections, thus anxiously to insist on some faint praise, does it betray a firm consciousness of, having endeavoured and deserved well ?” Such, probably, will be the question of the reader, who is petulant and captious! For the author, who, whether in the higher walks of genius, or the more humble paths of conipilation, appears calm in the confidence of his own well-meant exertions, knows little of the ingenuity of envy, or the liveliness of malicious degradation ! . It may not seem very presumptuous to aim at a reputation similar to that of the well known Thomas Hearne. Yet his celebrity is surely not altogether unenviable, whose works, comprehending voluminous materials of solid information, are every day rising in value, and are become the necessary ornaments of every rich
The present work, of which much of the matter could never probably again be re-assembled, and of which scarcely more than 150 complete sets can exist, will scarcely lose its price with the progress of time. The Censura Lileraria, if by any chance a copy comes into the market, fetches much more than double its original cost. That a fate not less flattering will attend the British BIBLIOGRAPHER we cannot doubt.
It is easy to plan out schemes of ideal perfection; to .• The set froin the library of Mr. Willett of Merly, all large paper, fetched 405l. 25. 6d. They consisted of 32 lots.
design a work in which all the perseverance of laborious enquiry and patient transcripts shall be united with all the grace of taste, and all the rich eloquence of genius; in which the plodding hand that collects the rude mas terials shall shape and combine them into forms of just proportion and exquisite beauty, or imposing magnificence! But, to plan and to perform, to suggest schemes, and to execute them, are immeasurably different! Even Warton, with great learning, great taste, and strong powers of original and nice criticism, united (I will venture to add, in defiance of some strange cavillers), with great and powerful genius, suffered the vigorous faculties of his digesting, discriminating, and creative mind, to be oppressed and overlaid by the weight of the heavy materials which incumbered him. Even he could not always move like a master under his load.
It is true that too many readers require to be taught how to think and to judge! It is not sufficient to give them specimens, and leave them to form their own opi. nions. Trite criticism, and remarks sometimes superficial, and sometimes deeply erroneous, might fill pages of plausible commentary, without any great expence either of time or talent to the writer. But are these the idlenesses to which a wise man will either commit his name, or consign his pen? Better a thousand times iš the plodding task of copying the dullest extracts, to which time has given an adventitious value! These the profound antiquary, the philosophic investigator of an: cient language and ancient manners, will know how to appreciate ; while the praise or the jest of the Aippant lover of the piquant style of modern criticism may be treated with equal indifference !
Is there any one who wishes to know with what degree of reluctance the editors resign a task in which they