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P R E FAGE.
On conversing with a few of
friends who were lovers of Poetry, I have frequently joined them in lamenting that the number of excellent Songs which our language afforded, were so dispersed through a variety of authors, or overwhelmed in injudicious Collections, that it was a most difficult matter to discover and enjoy the riches of this kind which we possessed. We observed that every collection of Songs, without exception, was degraded by dullness, ordebased by indecency; and that Song-Writing scarcely, seemed in any of them to be considered as a pleasing species of poetical composition, but merely as serving for the conveyance of some favourite Tunes. We were concerned to find that the more
modern any Collection was, it was remarkably the more deficient in poetical merit; so that a total decay of all taste for genuine Poetry, in this pleasing branch of it, was to be apprehended. This we in great measure attributed to the fashionable rage for Music, which had encouraged such'a mushroom growth of Comic Operas, that vile mongrel of the Drama, where the most enchanting Tunes are suited with the most flat and wretched combinations of words that ever disgraced the genius of a nation; and where the miserable versifier only appears as the hired underling of a Musical Composer. We thought, therefore, that it would be a meritorious piece of service to the cause of Poetry, by uniting into one firm body the most excellent productions in SongWriting, to form a barrier against the modish insipidity of the age, and to gratify such real lovers of genius as yet remain amongst us.
This task I was induced to undertake; and were ! to make a boastful recital of the numerous volumes of Song Collections
and Miscellany Poems which I have turned over for the purpose, it would show that industry at least had not been wanting in accomplishing it. This kind of praise, however, is of so inferior a nature, that, I confess, it would scarcely satisfy my ambition. During the progress of my researches, I was insensibly led to make some remarks on the peculiar character and diversities of the pieces which passed in review before me, and to form comparisons between them and others, the produce of a different age and country. As the subject had novelty to recommend it, and was suited to my inclinations, I was incited to pursue it to a length which seemed to render it lawful for me to take the title of an Essayist, instead of a mere Compiler. If the attempts which should support this more honourable character have not the fortune to meet with approbation, I must be contented with ny humble endeavours to please by the merits of others; yet I cannot acknowledge any impropriety, in the design, well remembering that Horace promises his friends
not only to present them with verse, but to tell them the worth of his present.
It may perhaps be a matter of surprise, that after so much labour I have not been able to furnish a larger Collection than is here offered; but on considering the manner in which these pieces have been ushered into the world, the wonder will
The chief sources of good Songs, are the Miscellany Poems and Plays from the time of Charles the Second, to the conclusion of Queen Anne's reign. Most of these were given in the earliest Collections, mixed however with the trash of the times, and copied from one to another with no farther variation than substituting new trash for such as was out of date. In the most modern Collections, all the beauties, as well as the insipid Pieces of the early ones are discarded, and the whole is inade up of favourite airs from the fashionable Comic Operas of the winter, and the summer warblings at Vauxhall, Ranelagh, and Spring Gardens ; so that in a year's time they are as much out of date as an Almanack. From this
account it will be perceived, that after making use of one of the best old Collections as a standard, all the rest were little more than mere repetitions; and that the very modern ones were entirely useless.
After all, I would not presume to say that I have culled every valuable production which this branch of Poetry affords. Difference of taste will always prevent uniformity of judgment, even where the faculties of judging are equal; and I have been much less solicitous to give a Collection to which nothing could be added, than one from which nothing could reasonably be rejected. In Song-Writing, as well as in every other production of art, there is a large class of the mediocres, which are of such dubious merit, as would allow the Reader to hesitate in his approbation of them. I have felt very little scruple in rejecting a number of these. It is not enough that Poetry does not disgust, it ought to give raptures. A much more disagreeable piece of severity was the rejection of several Pieces, marked with a rich vein of genuine Poetry, but not suf