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achieved before the days of Irving and Cooper and Pierpont and Percival, or whether, on the contrary, there were brave men living before Agamemnon.
I have endeavored to perform the task of supplying what seemed a desideratum. Whatever may be the estimation set upon my labors, I have the pleasure of presenting my countrymen with a collection of matter which no one can deny to be highly honorable to the land of our birth. The American reader will learn with surprise and gratification that a body of literature so respectable under all circumstances, as that contained in the following pages, can be gathered from the writings of our native authors. If, as I flatter myself, they may succeed so far as to make us better acquainted with the master spirits of our literature, and of consequence lead us to a more exalted appreciation of the intellectual capabilities of our countrymen, I shall reap a full reward for my exertions, in the reflection of having assisted in fostering a national spirit in a department, where, until such a spirit prevails, neither ourselves, nor the world will do full credit to the principles of our institutions, or the genius of our people.
That I have done entire justice to my task, I will not pretend. Were it allowed an author to go into a de-. tail of the disadvantages under which he sets about his work, for the purpose of excusing its faults, I could furnish without difficulty in the present instance, a catalogue sufficient to account for the imperfections which I cannot help foreseeing, will be charged against these volumes. But with the greater part of a writer's disabilities or disadvantages, the world has no
concern, and very properly will not suffer them to be pleaded in excuse for the defects which mar his productions. I shall therefore speak only of the difficulties inseparable from the present undertaking. I allude chiefly to the collection of the materials for the work. When it is considered, that nothing similar to this enterprise has ever before been attempted, the reader must be aware of the laborious nature of the researches necessary to be made. The whole collection of American literature was to be explored minutely without guide or direction, and the difficulty of such a task can be estimated only by those who have attempted something similar.
There was no where, as I before remarked, even a tolerably accurate list of American authors. Their works were scattered as diversely as the leaves of the Sybil, and many of them were about as easily to be procured. We have no collections of them in public libraries,* and some had become so completely forgotten that I was indebted in many cases to accident for their discovery. The omissions therefore which may be discerned in these volumes the reader I trust will ascribe to the right cause. For inaccuracies in the biographical department, should any be discovered, I must plead for a similar indulgence. The best authorities however have been applied to for this species of information, and I feel confident in assert
he principal libraries in Boston and the neighborhood, New York, Philadelphia, and Worcester, have been examined in search of materials for the work. In neither of these does there appear to have been any attempt made at such a collection. The most valuable one is in the possession of Professor Ticknor of this city, comprising about seventy volumes of the scarce old writers. That gentleman will accept my thanks for the readiness he has manifested to afford me all such assistance as his library could furnish.
ing that it may in general be relied upon. In the case of many of the most important subjects, the facts have been furnished by the authors themselves, in others, by their relations, or intimate associates. The additions thus made to the stock of biography by this original matter, forms not the least valuable portion of the work.
The plan upon which the latter part has been executed, will, it is hoped, meet the general approbation, although, perhaps, somewhat different from what the public had been led to expect. It was thought best upon mature consideration, to extend the work down to the present day, and embrace within it every one who had written with credit. On account of the rapid extension of literature among us within a short period, a fair representation could not in any other way be given of what we are likely to accomplish.
It will be perceived that I have left out the drama. It was originally intended to include all the dramatic productions in verse, but having learnt that a History of the American Stage was preparing by one who has been long conversant with the subject, and who possesses peculiar advantages for such a business, I deemed it most advisable to leave that part of the field untouched.
It remains for me to speak of the assistance which I have received in the course of my labors, and of the obligations due from me to those gentlemen who have so kindly lent me their aid in various shapes. Some of the biography and criticism, has been furnished by other hands. This will account for those slight discrepancies of opinion, which may be detected in two or three different pieces. To Mr Frederic S. Hill,
who in the outset took the editorial charge of the work, I am indebted for all which relates to Mather, Wolcott, Wigglesworth, Colman, Mrs Turell, Adams and J. Osborn. A few other articles are also the contributions of my friends. For the general character of these portions of the work, however, I hold myself responsible.
In selecting the specimens it will be observed that I have extracted pretty liberally from the volumes of some of our most distinguished writers. It seemed the most eligible method to give entire pieces of some length, when this could be done advantageously, rather than short and detached portions of different poems. I have in all cases where it was practicable, applied to the authors for permission to make such an appropriation of their writings, and this they have in every instance been so obliging as to grant.
Under the persuasion that the American public will look with indulgence upon the effort here shown to turn their attention to the literature and talent of their own country, I now submit these volumes to their inspection. The undertaking is one which I think they cannot but contemplate with interest. With what degree of credit I have acquitted myself of the charge, it remains for them to determine.
S. K. BOSTON, APRIL, 1829.