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selection of those parts where they are distinctly stated, but by frequently conjoining passages, distant in place, though connected in sense. The extracts, therefore, together with the interspersed remarks, and the occasional sketches of literary history, will obviously contribute to elucidate the progress of manners, of opinion, and of general refine


I need scarcely suggest the peculiar advantages of thus exhibiting a view of writers in chronological order. It assists the memory, by favouring the most natural and appropriate associations; the celebrated cotemporaries are represented, as they ought, in groups: and if the questions arise, Who were the literary worthies that adorned any given reign? and What were their respective claims to distincs tion ?-we have only to turn to that reign in the present work, to receive the required information. Even the incidental mention in the biographies of facts in civil history, will

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tend to awaken the curiosity to become better acquainted with the transactions of which they are links; and thus the reader will be insensibly led to the civil, as well as the literary history of the period.

Still, however, I do not present these volumes as a work of much research. I have examined scarcely at all into MS. stores; and have been more solicitous to give an account of authors who possess a permanent value, than of productions valuable only as curious relics of past literary ages. I considered also, that within the limits I thought proper to assign myself, the number of names might have been too great, as well as too little: for, as prose has not the advantage of poetry, in which a sonnet is as complete as an epic poem) the extracts in the former case could rarely, from their brevity, have possessed a distinct and independent value. It seemed therefore more rational to allot to great and valuable authors a tolerable space, that the specimens exhibited from

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them might give the reader no incompetent idea of their respective excellencies, or peculiarities.

To prevent any repellent effect to the general reader, it was thought advisable to adopt the modern orthography. The ancient spelling, indeed, was quite unsettled, and in some degree arbitrary; the same author often writing the same word in two or three different ways. To many readers, this might have been a source of obscurity. It was hence, perhaps, of less consequence to retain it; but it once occurred to me to print a few sentences, or a short passage, in each author, in the ancient manner, and the series of specimens might then have been considered as historically correct; at least sufficiently so for

every useful purpose. This may hereafter be done, should the work be so fortunate as to be sanctioned by the public approbation.

Some of the extracts towards the latter end of the first volume may possibly appear to contain as many, and even more absolete words, than several of those of an earlier date. This has arisen, I apprehend, from the early multiplication of copies of books; and from the alterations made by successive transcribers before the invention of printing; and by different editors since.

It might have given an air of greater completeness to this work, had it been preceded by an essay on the early formation of our language from the Anglo Saxon and Norman French; but having been anticipated in the plan by Mr. Ellis, it could have been regarded only as superfluous repetition of what he and his predecessors Johnson and Tyrrwhit had done before. For the same reason also, I have been more sparing of observations strictly philological, than otherwise I might have been. The matter interspersed is, for the most part, historical or bibliological; calculated to give some little information to those who have not made our early literature the

subject of their particular study. To have accumulated critical remarks would have been an officious obtrusion upon the judgment of the reader.

In tumbling over such a multitude of books, and upon subjects almost equally multitudinous,

I can by no means presume to hope, that I have always lighted upon passages, the very best that might have been chosen. In respect of the principal authors, I trust, there will be little room for complaint; yet there will still remain many flowers of beauty and fragrance, which would have embellished the garland here presented, and on which my discursive eye has not fallen. Should the opportunity be allowed me I should gratefully cull any which might be pointed out

me by some more attentive or tasteful wanderer in the fields of literature. Besides, it can scarcely be deemed unreasonable for me to alledge, that the toil of transcription (though in this respect I have had much assistance) has


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