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Hamilton, of the pulpit and the press—to David Brewster, John Wilson, and Thomas Carlyle.
While we pen these lines, the skilful statesmanship of one of her sons, amid circumstances of peculiar difficulty and danger, guides the helm of that mighty empire on which the sun never sets—an empire whose citizens enjoy a freedom unknown to the other nations of the old world, and whose power and glory instead of growing old and feeble by accumulated ages
possession and exercise, is yearly assuming a brighter and a more enduring lustre. Another, on the banks of his native Clyde, builds the commercial Steam Marine of Britain, that is so justly her pride—while a third is the architect, or perhaps we ought rather to say the inventor of the Crystal Palace, which, for originality, beauty, and utility, exceeds the proudest structures of Babylon or Nineveh, of Greece or Rome.
This love of country has induced the preparation of the following work, and the Editor's desire is that the perusal of the volume may re-enkindle the same delightful passion in many a heart where it now lies dormant. In the general term British, the great men of Scotland in every department are too often engulphed, and it is to give honor to whom honor is due, and to rescue the poets at least, from this mighty maelstrom, that this volume is now sent forth.
It will be perceived at a glance that this work lays no claim to being a complete collection of the Scottish poets. It has been the desire of the Editor to give a selection—in most cases complete poems—from each of the best, or most noted poets. The selections have been most copious from the minor poets—those least known in this country; among them will be found some of the most exquisite productions of genius. How far he has succeeded in representing each poet fairly, he must leave others to determine. The work of compilation was undertaken, not from any particular fitness for the task, but simply in the love of it. He has no expectation that it will be pronounced perfect -poems are no doubt omitted which some will think ought - to have found place, while others have been inserted that the same judges may conceive to possess inferior merit, yet he is not without hope that the volume as a whole will gratify many a lover of Scotland and the Scottish bards.
After pursuing the work for some time, he found the material expanding so rapidly on his hands, that he was obliged to discard much which he would gladly have admitted had the size of the volume allowed.
In preparing the sketches of the different poets there has been no effort at originality. Most of them have been condensed from Chambers' valuable work on English literature and Scrimgeour's “ Poets and Poetry of Britain,” and in all cases where it was possible the very language of these writers has been adopted. To both these works the Editor acknowledges himself largely indebted.
Neither pains nor expense have been spared to render the illustrations worthy of the subject. The frontispiece, by Ritchie, is one of the most successful efforts of that artist. In touching simplicity of design, and beauty of execution, it reflects credit alike upon the genius of the painter, and the skill of the engraver. The illustrations on wood—many of them fine specimens of the art—have been executed by various artists, from drawings by H. W. HERRICK, and others.
No apology is necessary for embodying in this work so many pieces in the national dialect, as this, to a large number of readers, will be a great recommendation. On this subject, the eloquent language of Lord Jeffrey is appropriate.
"The Scotch is not to be considered as a provincial dialect—the vehicle only of rustic vulgarity, and rude local humor. It is the language of a whole country, long an independent kingdom, and still separate in laws, character, and manners. It is by no means peculiar to the vulgar, but is the common speech of the whole nation in early life, and, with many of its most exalted and accomplished individuals, throughout their whole existence; and though it be true that in later times it has been in some measure laid aside by the more ambitious and aspiring of the present generation, it is still recollected, even by them, as the familiar language of their childhood, and of those who were the earliest objects of their love and veneration. It is connected in their imagination not only with that olden time which is uniformly more pure, lofty, and simple than the present, but also with all the soft and bright colors of remembered childhood and domestic affection. All its phrases conjure up images of school-day innocence and sports, and friendships which have no pattern in succeeding years. Add to all this, that it is the language of a great body of poetry, with which almost all Scotchmen are familiar, and in particular, of a great multitude of songs, written with more tenderness, nature, and feeling, than any other lyric compositions that are extant—and we may perhaps be allowed to say, that the Scotch is, in reality, a highly poetical language; and that it is an ignorant, as well as an illiberal prejudice, which would seek to confound it with the barbarous dialects of Yorkshire or Devon."