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DRYDEN stands nearly at the head of the second class of English poets, viz. the artificial, or those who describe the mixed modes of artificial life, and convey general precepts and abstract ideas. He had inven, tion in the plan of his Satires, very little fancy, not much wit, no humour, immense strength of character, elegance, masterly ease, indignant contempt approaching to the sublime, not a particle of tenderness, but eloquent declamation, the perfection of uncorrupted English style, and of sounding, vehement, varied versification. The Alexander's Feast, his Fables and Satires, are his standard and lasting works.
ROCHESTER, as a wit, is first-rate: but his fancy is keen and caustic, not light and pleasing, like Suckling or Waller. His verses cut and sparkle like diamonds.
ROSCOMMON excelled chiefly as a translator; but his translation of Horace's Art of Poetry is so unique a specimen of fidelity and felicity, that it has been adopted into this collection.
POMFRET left one popular poem behind him, The Choice; the attraction of which may be supposed to lie rather in the subject than in the peculiar merit of the execution.
Lord DORSET, for the playful ease and elegance of his verses, is not surpassed by any of the poets of that class.
J. PHILIPS'S SPLENDID Shilling makes the fame of this poet—it is a lucky thought happily executed.
HALIFAX (of whom two short poems are here retained) was the least of the Minor poets-one of “ the mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease."
The praise of PARNELL'S poetry is, that it was moral, amiable, with a tendency towards the pensive; and it was his fortune to be the friend
PRIOR is not a very moral poet, but the most arch, piquant, and equivocal of those that have been admitted into this collection. He is a graceful narrator, a polished wit, full of the delicacies of style amidst gross allusions.
CRITICAL LIST OF AUTHORS.
POPE is at the head of the second class of poets, viz. the describers of artificial life and manners. His works are a delightful, never-failing fund of good sense and refined taste. He had high invention and fancy of the comic kind, as in the Rape of the Lock; wit, as in the Dunciad and Satires; no humour; some beautiful descriptions, as in the Windsor Forest; some exquisite delineations of character (those of Addison and Villiers are master-pieces); he is a model of elegance every where, but more particularly in his eulogies and friendly epistles; his ease is the effect of labour; he has no pretensions to sublimity, but sometimes displays an indignant moral feeling akin to it; his pathos is playful and tender, as in his Epistles to Arbuthnot and Jervas, or rises into power by the help of rhetoric, as in the Eloisa, and Elegy on the Death of an Unfortunate Lady; his style is polished and almost faultless in its kind; his versification tires by uniform smoothness and harmony. He has been called “the most sensible of poets:" but the proofs of his sense are to be looked for in his single observations and hints, as in the Essay on Criticism and Moral Epistles, and not in the larger didactic reasonings of the Essay on Man, which is full of verbiage and bombast.
If good sense has been made the characteristic of Pope, good-nature might be made (with at least equal truth) the characteristic of GAY. He was a satirist without gall. He had a delightful placid vein of invention, fancy, wit, humour, description, ease and elegance, a happy style, and a versification which seemed to cost him nothing. His Beggar's Opera indeed has
ngs in it, but it appears to have left the writer's mind without any.
The Grave of BLAIR is a serious and somewhat gloomy poem, but pregnant with striking reflections and fine fancy.
SWIFT'S poetry is not at all equal to his prose. He was actuated by the spleen in both. He has however sense, wit, humour, ease, and even elegance when he pleases, in his poetical effusions. But he trifled with the Muse. He has written more agreeable nonsense than any man. His Verses on his own Death are affecting and beautiful.
AMBROSE PHILIPS'S Pastorals were ridiculed by Pope, and their merit is of an humble kind. They may be said rather to mimic nature than to imitate it. They talk about rural objects, but do not paint them. His vesses descriptive of a NORTHERN WINTER are better.
The volume here presented to the public is an attempt to improve upon the plan of the Elegant Extracts in Verse by the late Dr. Knox. From the length of time which had elapsed since the first appearance of that work, a similar undertaking admitted of considerable additions; and though the table of contents has been enriched both from recent and early sources, the size of the volume has been compressed by means of a more severe selection of matter. At least, a third of the former popular and in many respects valuable work was devoted to articles either entirely worthless, or recommended only by considerations foreign to the reader of poetry. The object and indeed ambition of the present compiler has been to offer to the public a BODY OF ENGLISH POETRY, such as might at once satisfy individual curiosity and justify our national pride. We have reason to boast of the genius of our country for poetry and of the trophies earned in that way; and it is well to have a collection of such examples of excellence inwoven together as may serve to nourish our own taste and love for the sublime or beautiful, and also to silence the objections of foreigners, who are too ready to treat us as behindhand with themselves in all that relates to the arts of refinement and elegance. If in some respects we are so, it behoves us the more to cultivate and cherish the superiority we can lay claim to in others. Poetry is one of those departments in which we possess a decided and as it were
natural pre-eminence: and therefore no pains should be spared in selecting and setting off to advantage the different proofs and vouchers of it.
All that could be done for this object, has been attempted in the present instance. have brought together in one view (to the best of my judgment) all the most admired smaller pieces of poetry in the language, and the most striking passages in larger works, which could not themselves be given entire. I have availed myself of the plan chalked out by my predecessor, but in the hope of improving upon it. To possess a work of this kind ought to be like holding the contents of a library in one's hand, without any of the refuse or“ baser matter.” If it had not been thought that the former work admitted of considerable improvement in the choice of subjects, inasmuch as inferior and indifferent productions not rarely occupied the place of sterling excellence, the present publication would not have been hazarded.—Another difference is that I have followed the order of time, instead of the division of the subjects. By this method, the progress of poetry is better seen and understood; and besides, the real subjects of poetry are so much alike or run so much into one another, as not easily to come under any precise classification.
The great deficiency which I have to lament is the small portion of Shakespear's poetry, which has been introduced into the work; but this arose unavoidably from the plan of it, which did not extend to dramatic poetry as a general species. The extracts from the best parts of Chaucer, which are given at some length, will, it is hoped, be acceptable to the lover both of poetry and history. The quotations from Spenser do not occupy a much larger space than in the Elegant Extracts; but entire passages are given, instead of a numberless quantity of shreds and patches. The essence of