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RELIQUES OF ANCIENT ENGLISH POETRY:
OLD HEROIC BALLADS, SONGS, AND OTHER PIECES
OF OUR EARLIER POETS;
TOGETHER WITH SOME FEW OF LATER DATE.
IN HER OWN RIGHT BARONESS PERCY,
ETC. ETC. ETC.,
Who, being sole heiress to many great families of our ancient nobility, employed the princely fortune, and sustained the illustrious honours, which she derived from them, through her whole life with the greatest dignity, generosity, and spirit, and who for her many public and private virtues will ever be remembered as one of the first characters of her time, this little work was originally dedicated ; and, as it sometimes afforded her amusement, and was highly distinguished by her indulgent approbation, it is now, with the utmost regard, respect, and gratitude, consecrated to her beloved and honoured memory.
ADVERTISEMENT TO THE FOURTH EDITION. TWENTY years have near elapsed since the last edition of this work appeared. But although it was sufficiently a favourite with the public, and had long been out of print, the original Editor had no desire to revive it. More important pursuits had, as might be expected, engaged his attention ; and the present edition would have remained unpublished, had he not yielded to the importunity of his friends, and accepted the humble offer of an Editor in a nephew, to whom, it is feared, he will be found too partial.
These volumes are now restored to the public with such corrections and improve. ments as have occurred since the former impression ; and the text in particular hath been emended in many passages by recurring to the old copies. The instances being frequently trivial, are not always noted in the margin ; but the alteration hath never been made without good reason : and especially in such pieces as were extracted froin the folio Manuscript so often mentioned in the following pages, where any variation occurs from the former impression, it will be understood to have been given on the authority of that MS.
The appeal publicly made to Dr. Johnson in the first page of the following Preface, so long since as in the year 1765, and never once contradicted by him during so large a portion of his life, ought to have precluded every doubt concerning the existence of the MS. in question. But such, it seems, having been suggested, it may now be mentioned that while this edition passed through his press, the MS. itself was left for near a year with Mr. Nichols, in whose house, or in that of its possessor, it was examined with more or less attention by many gentlemen of eminence in literature. At the first publication of these volumes, it had been in the hands of all, or most of, his friends ; but, as it could hardly be expected that he should continue to think of nothing else but these amusements of his youth, it was afterwards laid aside at his residence in the country. Of the many gentlemen above mentioned, who offered to give their testimony to the public, it will be sufficient to name the Honourable Daines Barrington, the Reverend Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode, and those eminent critics on Shakespeare, the Reverend Dr. Farmer, George Steevens, Esq., Edmund Malone, Esq., and Isaac Reed, Esq., to whom I beg leave to appeal for the truth of the following representation.
The MS. is a long narrow folio volume, * containing 195 sonnets, ballads, historical songs, and metrical romances, either in the whole or in part, for many of them are extremely mutilated and imperfect. The first and last leaves are wanting ; and of fifty-four pages near the beginning, half of every leaf hath been torn away, and several others are injured towards the end ; besides that through a great part of the volume the top or bottom line, and sometimes both, have been cut off in the binding.
In this state is the MS. itself : and even where the leaves have suffered no injury, the transcripts, which seem to have been all made by one person (they are at least all in the same kind of hand), are sometimes extremely incorrect and faulty, being in such instances probably made from defective copies, or the imperfect recitation of illiterate singers ; so that a considerable portion of the song or narrative is sometimes omitted ; and miserable trash or nonsense not unfrequently introduced into pieces of considerable merit. And often the copyist grew so weary of his labour as to write on without the least attention to the sense or meaning ; so that the word which should form the rhyme is found misplaced in the middle of the line ; and we have such blunders as these, want and will for wanton will it even pan and wale for wan and pale, * etc. Hence the public may judge how much they are indebted to the composer of this
* It is now in the British Museum (E. W.).
collection, who, at an early period of life, with such materials and such subjects, formed a work which hath been admitted into the most elegant libraries; and with which the judicious antiquary hath just reason to be satisfied, while refined entertainment hath been provided for every reader of taste and genius.
THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE. The reader is here presented with select remains of our ancient English Bards and Minstrels, an order of men, who were once greatly respected by our ancestors, and contributed to soften the roughness of a martial and unlettered people by their songs and music.
The greater part of them are extracted from an ancient folio Manuscript, in the Editor's possession, which contains near 200 poems, songs, and metrical romances. This MS, was written about the middle of the last century, but contains compositions of all times and dates, from the ages prior to Chaucer, to the conclusion of the reign of Charles I.*
This Manuscript was shown to several learned and ingenious friends, who thought the contents too curious to be consigned to oblivion, and importuned the possessor to select some of them, and give them to the press. As most of them are of great simplicity, and seem to have been merely written for the people, he was long in doubt whether, in the present state of improved literature, they could be deemed worthy the attention of the public. At length the importunity of his friends prevailed, and he could refuse nothing to such judges as the author of the Rambler and the late Mr. Shenstone.
Accordingly such specimens of ancient poetry have been selected, as either show the gradation of our language, exhibit the progress of popular opinion display the peculiar manners and customs of former ages, or throw light on our earlier classical poets.
They are here distributed into three independent series of poems, arranged chiefly according to the order of time, and showing the gradual improvements of the English language and poetry from the earliest ages down to the present. Each series is divided into three books, to afford so many pauses, or resting-places to the reader, and to assist him in distinguishing between the productions of the earlier, the middle, and the latter times.
In a polished age like the present, I am sensible that many of these reliques of antiquity will require great allowances to be made for them. Yet have they, for the most part, a pleasing simplicity, and many artless graces, which in the opinion of no mean criticst have been thought to compensate for the want of higher beauties, and, if they do not dazzle the imagination, are frequently found to interest the heart.
* Chaucer quotes the old romance of Libius Disconius, and some others, which are found in This MS. (See the essay prefixed to vol. iii. p. 15 et seq.) It also contains several songs relating to the Civil War in the last century, but not one that alludes to the Restoration.
† Addison, Dryden, the witty Lord Dorset, etc. See the Spectator, No. 70. The learned Selden appears also to have been fond of collecting these old things.
To atone for the rudeness of the more obsolete poems, each volume concludes with a few modern attempts in the same kind of writing : and, to take off from the tediousness of the longer narratives, they are everywhere intermingled with little elegant pieces of the lyric kind. Select ballads in the old Scottish dialect, most of them of the first-rate merit, are also interspersed among those of our ancient English minstrels ; and the artless productions of these old rhapsodists are occasionally confronted with specimens of the composition of contemporary poets of a higher class ; of those who had all the advantages of learning in the times in which they lived, and who wrote for fame and for posterity. Yet perhaps the palm will be frequently due to the old strolling minstrels, who composed their rhymes to be sung to their harps, and who looked no farther than for present applause and present subsistence.
The reader will find this class of men occasionally described in the following volume, and some particulars relating to their history in an Essay subjoined to this Preface.
It will be proper here to give a short account of the other collections that were consulted, and to make my acknowledgments to those gentlemen who were so kind as to impart extracts from them; for while this selection was making, a great number of ingenious friends took a share in the work, and explored many large repositories in its favour. The first of these that deserved notice was the Pepysian Library at Magdalen College, Cambridge. Its founder, Sam. Pepys, Esq., Secretary of the Admiralty in the reigns of Charles II. and James II., had made a large collection of ancient English ballads, near 2000 in number, which he has left pasted in five volumes in folio; besides Garlands and other smaller miscellanies. This collection, he tells us, was “begun by Mr. Selden ; improved by the addition of many pieces elder thereto in time; and the whole continued down to the year 1700 ; when the form peculiar till then thereto, viz. of the black letter with pictures, seems (for cheapness' sake) wholly laid aside for that of the white letter without pictures.”
In the Ashmolean Library at Oxford is a small collection of ballads made by Anthony Wood in 1676, containing somewhat more than 200. Many ancient popular poems are also preserved in the Bodleian Library.
The archives of the Antiquarian Society at London contain a multitude of curious political poems in large folio volumes, digested under the several reigns of Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary, Elizabeth, James I., etc.
In the British Museum is preserved a large treasure of ancient English poems in MS., besides one folio volume of printed ballads.
From all these some of the best pieces were selected ; and from many private collections, as well printed as manuscript, particularly from one large folio volume which was lent by a lady.
Amid such a fund of materials, the Editor is afraid he has been sometimes led to make too great a parade of his authorities. The desire of being accurate has perhaps seduced him into too minute and trifling an exactness; and in pursuit of information he may have been drawn into many a petty and frivolous research. It was however necessary to give some account of the old copies; though often, for the sake of brevity, one or two of these only are mentioned, where yet assistance was received from several. Where anything was altered that deserved particular notice, the passage is generally distinguished by two inverted "commas." And the Editor has endeavoured to be as
THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE.
faithful as the imperfect state of his materials would admit. For, these old popular rhymes being many of them copied only from illiterate transcripts, or the imperfect recitation of itinerant ballad-singers, have, as might be expected, been handed down to us with less care than any other writings in the world. And the old copies, whether MS. or printed, were often so defective or corrupted, that a scrupulous adherence to their wretched readings would only have exhibited unintelligible nonsense, or such poor meagre stuff as neither came from the bard nor was worthy the press; when, by a few slight corrections or additions, a most beautiful or interesting sense hath started forth, and this so naturally and easily, that the Editor could seldom prevail on himself to indulge the vanity of making a formal claim to the improvement; but must plead guilty to the charge of concealing his own share in the amendments under some such general title as a 'Modern Copy,” or the like. Yet it has been his design to give sufficient intimation where any considerable liberties * were taken with the old copies, and to have retained either in the text or margin any word or phrase which was antique, obsolete, unusual, or peculiar, so that these might be safely quoted as of genuine and undoubted antiquity. His object was to please both the judicious antiquary and the reader of taste; and he hath endeavoured to gratify both without offending either.
The plan of the work was settled in concert with the late elegant Mr. Shenstone, who was to have borne a joint share in it had not death unhappily prevented him.+ Most of the modern pieces were of his selection and arrangement, and the Editor hopes to be pardoned if he has retained some things out of partiality to the judgment of his friend. The old folio MS. above mentioned was a present from Humphrey Pitt, Esq. of Prior's-Lee, in Shropshire, I to whom this public acknowledgment is due for that and many other obliging favours. To Sir David Dalrymple, Bart., of Hales, near Edinburgh, the Editor is indebted for most of the beautiful Scottish poems with which this little miscellany is enriched, and for many curious and elegant remarks with which they are illustrated. Some obliging communications of the same kind were received from John Macgowan, Esq., of Edinburgh ; and many curious explanations of Scottish words in the glossaries from John Davidson, Esq., of Edinburgh, and from the Rev. Mr. Hutchinson, of Kimbolton. Mr. Warton, who has twice done so much honour to the Poetry Professor's chair at Oxford, and Mr. Hest of Worcester College, contributed some curious pieces from the Oxford Libraries. Two ingenious and learned friends at Cambridge deserve the Editor's warmest acknowledgments :
* Such liberties have been taken with all those pieces which have three asterisks subjoined, thus *.*.
† That the Editor hath not here underrated the assistance he received from his friend, will appear from Mr. Shenstone's own letter to the Rev. Mr. Grave;, dated March 1, 1761. See his Works, vol. iii. Letter ciii. It is doubtless a great loss to this work that Mr. Shenstone never saw more than about an eighth part of it, as prepared for the press.
Who informed the Editor that ihis MS. had been purchased in a library of old books, which was thought to have belonged to Thomas Blount, author of the Focular Tenures, 1679, 4to, and of many other publications enumerated in Wood's A thenæ, ii. 73, the earliest of which is The Art of Making Devises, 1646, 4to, wherein he is described to be “of the Inner Temple." If the collection was made by this lawyer (who also published the Law Dictionary, 1671, folio), it should seem, from the errors and defects with which the MS. abounds, that he had employed his clerk in writing the transcripts,