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ELEGANT EXTRACTS IN PROSE.
Printed for J. Johnson.G.G & J. Robinson.W.J & J. Richardson J. Sewell.F & C.Rivington R.Baldwin,
P R E F A CE.
INCE Poetry affords young persons an innocent pleasure, a taste for it,
under certain limitations, should be indulged. Why should they be forbidden to expatiate, in imagination, over the flowery fields of Arcadia, in Elysium, in the Iles of the Bleft, and in the Vale of Tempe? The harmless delight which they derive from Poetry, is surely fufficient to recommend an attention to it, at an age when pleasure is the chief pursuit, even if the sweets of it were not blended with utility.
If indeed pleasure were the ultimate object of Poetry, there are fome who, in the rigour of austere wisdom, would maintain that the precious days of youth might be more advantageously employed then in cultivating a taste for it. To obviate their objections, it is necessary to remind them, that Poetry has ever claimed the power of conveying instruction, in the most effectual manner, by the vehicle of pleasure.
There is reason to believe that many young persons of natural genius would have given very little attention to learning of any kind, if they had been introduced to it by books appealing only to their reason and judgment, and not to their fancy. Through the plealant paths of Poetry they have been gradually led to the heights of science: they have been allured, on first setting out, by the beauty of the scene presented to them, into a delightful land fowing with milk and honey, where, after having been nourished like the infant from the mother's breast, they have gradually acquired strength enough to relish and digest the solidest food of philosophy.
This opinion seems to be confirmed by actual experience; for the greatest men, in every liberal and honourable profession, have given their early years to the charms of Poetry. Many of the most illustrious worthies in the church and in the state were allured to the land of learning by the song of the Muse; and they would perhaps have never entered it, if their preceptors had forbidden them to lend an ear. Of so much consequence is the study of Poetry in youth to the general advancement of learning,
And as to morals, “ Poetry,” in the words of Sir Philip Sydney, “ doth not “ only shew the way, but giveth fo sweet a prospect of the way, as will entice
any man to enter into it; nay, the Poet doth, as if your journey should be " through a fair vineyard, at the very first give you a cluster of grapes, that, “ full of that taste, you may long to pass farther. He beginneth not with ob« scure definitions, but he cometh to you with words set in delightful pro“ portion, either accompanied with, or prepared for, the well-enchanting skill of “music ;-—and with a tale ;-he cometh unto you with a tale, which heldeth “ children from play, and old men from the chimney corner. Even those hard« hearted evil men, who think virtue a school-name, and despise the auftere « admonitions of the philosopher, and feel not the inward reasons they stand
upon, yet will be contented to be delighted; which is all the good fellow « Poet seems to promise ; and so steal to see the form of goodness; which seen “ they cannot but love, ere themselves be aware, as if they took a medicine of « cherries."
Thus Poetry, by the gentle, yet certain method of allurement, leads both to' learning and to virtue. I conclude, therefore, that under a few self-evident restrictions, it is properly addressed to all young minds, in the course of a liberal education.
It must be confessed, at the fame time, that many sensible men, both in the world and in the schools of philosophy, have objected to an early study of it. They have thought that a taste for it interfered with an attention to what they call the MAIN CHANce. What poet ever fined for sheriff? says Oldham. It is seldom seen that any one discovers mines of gold and silver in Parnassus, says Mr. Locke. Such ideas have predominated in the exchange and in the warehouse; and, while they continue to be confined to those places, may perhaps, in some instances, be advantageous. But they ought not to operate on the mind of the gentleman, or the man of a liberal profession; and indeed there is no good reason to be given why the mercantile classes, at least of the higher order, should not amuse their leisure with any pleasures of polite literature.
That some object to the study of Poetry as a part of education, is not to be wondered at, when it is considered that many, from want of natural sensibility, or from long habits of inattention to every thing but fordid interest, are totally unfurnished with faculties for the perception of poetical beauty. But shall we deny that the cowslip and violet possess a vivid colour and sweet fragrance, because the ox who fattens in the meadow tramples over them without perceiving either their hues or their odours? The taste of mankind, from China to Peru, powerfully militates against the opposers of Poetry:
Young minds have commonly a taste for Verse. Unseduced by the love of money, and unhacknied in the ways of vice, they are indeed delighted with nature and fact, though unembellished ; because all objects with them have the grace of novelty: but they are transported with the charms of Poetry, where the sunshine of fancy diffuses over every thing the fine gloss, the rich colouring, of beautiful imagery and language. “ Nature” (to cite Sir Philip Sydney again) " never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry as diverse poets have done, “ neither with so pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, sweet smelling-flowers, nor « whatsoever may make the earth more lovely. The world is a brazen world « —the poets only deliver a GOLDEN; which whoever dislike, the fault is in their
judgment, quite out of taste, and not in the sweet food of sweetLY-UTTERED « KNOWLEDGE."
It will be readily acknowledged, that ideas and precepts of all kinds, whether of morality or science, make a deeper impression when inculcated by the vivacity, the painting, the melody of poetical language. And what is thus deeply impressed will also long remain ; for metre and rhyme naturally catch hold of the memory, as the tendrils of the vine cling round the branches of the elm,
Orpheus and Linus are recorded in fable to have drawn the minds of favage men to knowledge, and to have polished human nature, by Poetry. And are not Children in the state of nature ? And is it not probable that Poetry may be the best instrument to operate on them, as it was found to be on nations in the favage state ? Since, according to the mythological wisdom of the ancients, Amphion moved ftones, and Orpheus brutes, by music and verse, is it not reasonable to believe, that minds which are dull, and even brutally ir lensible, may be penetrated, sharpened, foftener', and irradiated, by the warm infuence of fine Poetry?
But it is really superfluous to expatiate either on the delight or the utility of Poetry. The subject has been exhausted ; and, whatever a few men of little taste and feeling, or of minds entirely sordid and secular, may object, such are the charms of the Goddess, such her powerful influence over the heart of man, that she will never want voluntary votaries at her thrine. The Author of Nature has kindly implanted in man a love of Poetry, to solace him under the labours and sorrows of life. A great part of the Scriptures is poetry and verse, The wise son of Sirach enumerates, ainong the most honourable of mankind, SUCH AS FOUND OUT MUSICAL TUNES, AND REÇITED VERSES IN WRITING
With respect to this Compilation, the principal subject of this Preface (but from which I have been feduced into a digression, by giving my fuffrage in favour of the art I love) --if I thould be asked what are its pretensions, I must A 3