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The archives of the Antiquarian Society at London contain a multitude of curious political poems in large folio volumes, digested under the several reigns of Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary, Elizabeth, James I., &c.
In the British Museum is preserved a large treasure of ancient English poems in MS., besides one folio volume of printed ballads.
From all these some of the best pieces were selected; und from many private Collections, as well printed as manuscript, particularly from one large folio volume which was lent by a lady.
Amid such a fund of materials the Editor is afraid he has been sometimes led to make too great a parade of his authorities. The desire of being accurate has perhaps seduced him into too minute and trifling an exactness; and in pursuit of information he may have been drawn into many a petty and frivolous research. It was, however, necessary to give some account of the old copies; though often, for the sake of brevity, one or two of these only are mentioned, where yet assistance was received from several. Where anything was altered that deserved particular notice, the passage is generally distinguished by two inverted commas:' and the Editor has endeavoured to be as faithful as the imperfect state of his materials would admit. For these old popular rhymes being many of them copied only from illiterate transcripts, or the imperfect recitation of itinerant balladsingers, have, as might be expected, been handed down to us with less care than any other writings in the world. And the old copies, whether MS. or printed, were often so defective or corrupted, that a scrupulous adherence to their wretched readings would only have exhibited unintelligible nonsense, or such poor meagre stuff as neither came from the bard nor was worthy the press; when, by a few slight corrections or additions, a most beautiful or interesting sense hath started
forth, and this so naturally and easily, that the Editor could seldom prevail on himself to indulge the vanity of making a formal claim to the improvement; but must plead guilty to the charge of concealing his own share in the amendments under some such general title as a “Modern Copy," or the like. Yet it has been his design to give sufficient intimation where any considerable liberties 4 were taken with the old copies, and to have retained, either in the text or margin, any word or phrase which was antique, obsolete, unusual, or peculiar; so that these might be safely quoted as of genuine and undoubted antiquity. His object was to please both the judicious antiquary and the reader of taste; and he hath endeavoured to gratify both without offending either.
The plan of the work was settled in concert with the late elegant Mr. Shenstone, who was to have borne a joint share in it, had not death unhappily prevented bim. Most of the modern pieces were of his selection and arrangement, and the Editor hopes to be pardoned if he has retained some things out of partiality to the judgment of his friend. The old folio MS. above mentioned was a present from Humphrey Pitt, Esq., of Prior's-Lee, in Shropshire,6 to whom this public acknowledgment is due for that and many other obliging favours. To Sir David Dalrymple, Bart., of Hales, near Edinburgh, the Editor is indebted for most of the beautiful Scottish poems with which this little miscellany is enriched, and for many curious and elegant remarks with which they are illustrated. Some obliging communications of the same kind were received from John MacGowan, Esq., of Edinburgh ; and many curious explanations of Scottish words in the glossaries from John Davidson, Esq., of Edinburgh, and from the Rev. Mr. Hutchinson, of Kimbolton, Mr. Warton, who has twice done so much honour to the Poetry Professor's chair at Oxford, and Mr. Hest, of Worcester College, contributed some curious pieces from the Oxford libraries. Two ingenious and learned friends at Cambridge deserve the Editor's warmest acknowledgments : to Mr. Blakeway, late Fellow of Magdalen College, he owes all the assistance received from the Pepysian Library; and Mr. Farmer, Fellow of Emanuel, often exerted in favour of this little work that extensive knowledge of ancient English literature for which he is so distinguished. Many extracts
4 Such liberties have been taken with all those pieces which have three asterisks subjoined, thus **.
5 That the Editor hath not here underrated the assistance he received from his friend, will appear from Mr. Shenstone's own letter to the Rev. Mr. Graves, dated March 1st, 1761.-See his Works, vol. iii. letter ciii. It is doubtless a great loss to this work that Mr. Shenstone never saw more than about a third of one of these volumes, as prepared for the press.
6 Who informed the Editor that this MS. had been purchased in a library of old books, which was thought to have belonged to Thomas Blount, author of the Jocular Tenures, 1679, 4to, and of many other publications enumerated in Wood's Athenæ, ii. 73; the earliest of which is The Art of making Devises, 1646, 4to., wherein he is described to be “ of the Inner Temple.” If the collection was made by this lawyer (who also published the Law Dictionary, 1671, folio), it should seem, from the errors and defects with which the MS. abounds, that he had employed his clerk in writing the transcripts, who was often weary of his task.
? To the same learned and ingenious friend, since Master of Emanuel College, the Editor is obliged for many corrections and improvements in his second and subsequent editions; as also to the Rev. Mr. Bowle, of Idmistone, near Salisbury, editor of the curious edition of Don Quixote, with Annotations, in Spanish, in 6 vols. 4to; to the Rev. Mr. Cole, formerly of Blecheley, near Fenny-Stratford, Bucks; to the Rev. Mr. Lambe, of Noreham, in Northumberland (author of a learned History of Chess, 1764, 8vo, and editor of a curious Poem on the Battle of Flodden Field, with learned notes, 1774, 8vo); and to G. Paton, Esq., of Edinburgh. He is particularly indebted to two friends, to whom the public, as well as himself, are under the greatest obligations: to the Honourable Danes Barrington, for his very learned and curious Observations on the Stututes, 4to; and to Thomas Tyrwhitt, Esq., whose most correct and elegant edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, 5 vols. 8vo, is a standard book, and shows how an ancient English classic should be published. The Editor was also favoured with many valuable remarks and corrections from the Rev. Geo. Ashby, late Fellow of St. John's College, in Cambridge, which are not particularly pointed out, because they occur so often. He was no less obliged to Thomas Butler, Esq., F.A.S., agent to the Duke of Northumberland, and Clerk of the Peace for the county of Middlesex, whose extensive knowledge of ancient writings, records, and history has been of great use to the Editor in his attempts to illustrate the literature or manners of our
from ancient MSS. in the British Museum and other repositories were owing to the kind services of Thomas Astle, Esq., to whom the public is indebted for the curious Preface and Index annexed to the Harleian Catalogue. The worthy librarian of the Society of Antiquaries, Mr. Norris, deserved acknowledgment for the obliging manner in which he gave the Editor access to the volumes under his care. In Mr. Garrick's curious collection of old Plays are many scarce pieces of ancient poetry, with the free use of which he indulged the Editor in the politest manner. To the Rev. Dr. Birch he is indebted for the use of several ancient and valuable tracts. To the friendship of Dr. Samuel Johnson he owes many valuable hints for the conduct of the work. And if the glossaries are more exact and curious than might be expected in so slight a publication, it is to be ascribed to the supervisal of a friend who stands at this time the first in the world for northern literature, and whose learning is better known and respected in foreign nations than in his own country. It is perhaps needless to name the Rev. Mr. Lye, editor of Junius's Etymologicum, and of the Gothic Gospels.
The names of so many men of learning and character the Editor hopes will serve as an amulet, to guard him from every unfavourable censure for having bestowed any attention on a parcel of Old Ballads. It was at the request of many of these gentlemen, and of others eminent for their genius and taste, that this little work was undertaken. To prepare it for the press has been the amusement of now and then a vacant hour amid the leisure and retirement of rural life, and hath only served as a relaxation from graver studies. It has been taken up at different times, and often thrown aside for many months, during an interval of four or five years. This has occasioned some inconsistencies and repetitions, which the candid reader will pardon. As great care has been taken to admit nothing immoral and indecent, the Editor hopes he need not be ashamed of having bestowed some of his idle hours on the ancient literature of our own country, or in rescuing from oblivion some pieces (though but the amusements of our ancestors) which tend to place in a striking light their taste, genius, sentiments, or manners.
ancestors. Some valuable remarks were procured by Samuel Pegge, Esq., author of that curious work the Curialia, 4to; but this impression was too far advanced to profit by them all; which hath also been the case with a series of learned and ingenious annotations inserted in the Gentleman's Magazine for August, 1793; April, June, July, and October, 1794; and which it is hoped will be continued. $ Since keeper of the Records in the Tower. VOL I.