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In addressing himself to his subject matter, the first prominent difficulty was the disposal of materials so comprehensive into such sections as might enable him to bring the whole, as it were, in a bird's-eye view, within the prescribed limits; thus giving at least something like a due share of consideration to each. The comparative importance of the long line of celebrated men who were to be submitted to critical remark, was the next source of perplexity; nor was the delicacy or difficulty of this task lessened from the circumstance of the Author having been honoured by the friendship of several of the illustrious departed, as well as of not a few of the illustrious living, whose works were necessarily to form the main themes of comment.
The likelihood of accomplishing this, without occasioning disappointment or provoking displeasure in some quarters, the Author soon felt compelled to make up his mind to, as an impossibility. But be this misfortune to whatever extent it may, he can unhesitatingly affirm, that in his critical judgments—which of course can go for no more than they are worth—he has approached his task solely and exclusively in a literary point of view;
and, in as far as he himself can judge, with that impartiality and candour with which he would have viewed it had the writers to be examined belonged to the era of Queen Elizabeth or of Queen Anne. That many of his critical conclusions may be erroneous, or founded on insufficient data, is very probable ; but that is quite another matter. Nor is he at all wedded to these—more especially as applicable to our more recent poets -in any degree incompatible with whatever change of opinion he may hereafter deem to be just and fair.
With regard to the style and tone of the following pages, it may be as well to say, that they are scarcely such as their Author would have adopted had their contents been intended solely for the closet; but were simply preferred as those most likely to conduce to effectiveness in delivery before a very large popular audience. Nor in this, so far, was he disappointed; for the measure of their acceptance proved to be very much beyond his most sanguine expectations, and has indeed been a main reason for committing them to the press; more especially as, from the limited time allowed for delivery, a considerable
portion of each Lecture was necessarily omitted, as well as many of the extracts, which had been selected for illustrations and proofs of particular positions.
To the mighty minds whose productions passed in review before him, the Author has ever been accustomed to look up with love and veneration -feelings which, however unceremoniously he may occasionally seem to have presumed to discuss the merits of those productions, remain unabated and unchanged. As the temporary occupant of a critical chair, he hesitated not to speak out his opinions freely and fearlessly; but he trusts without one iota of personal prejudice, or the slightest leaning towards asperity. Indeed this could not well be; as not a single name has been adverted to, throughout, which did not suggest its claims to attention by some high or peculiar excellence.
The succession of Lord Byron to the poetical supremacy.—The energy of
his genius, and its different phases.-Childe Harold, Turkish and
other Tales.-His Pantheistic views.—Extracts from Prisoner of
Chillon ; from Giaour; from Bride of Abydos; from Parasina ;
and from Beppo.-Verses to Mary.--Byron and Burns.-Bishop
Heber, Palestine and Hymns.-Dean Milman, Dramatic Poems, and
Samor.-Elegiac Verses.—Dr Croly, Paris, Sebastian, Gems from
Antique.-Honourable W. Herbert, Icelandic Translations, Helga,
and Attila: specimen, Northern Spring.– William Tennant, Anster
Fair and other poems : extract, Maggy Lauder.-Frere's Whistle-