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ITH considerable diffidence I submit to the reader, a new edition of my Father's Collection of Old Ballads; and would willingly dismiss it without a single prefatory observation, did it not appear incumbent on me, to state the nature of the alterations I have presumed to make, in a work which has been honoured by the public approbation.
The repeated perusal of Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry, first suggested to the late editor, the idea of the present work. The genius and taste, which pervade that beautiful compilation, fascinated bis attention, and excited his curiosity: he regretted, that the Doctor had confined his
work to the scanty limits of three volumes, and he resolved to collect the scattered ballads, which were yet to be found dispersed through various libraries, in hopes they might furnish the same entertainment to others, that he had himself dem rived from them. I will here take the liberty of saying a few words on the Reliques of Ancient Poetry; I esteem it the most elegant compilation of the early poetry of a nation that has ever appeared in any age or country. Every page evinces the refined taste, the genius and learning of the editor; it deserved, and has received unbounded applause from men fully capable of appreciating its merits. It must be remembered to its praise, that when it first appeared, nothing had been published, that deserved the name of a history of our early poetry; the field was unexplored, and Percy, threw a steady light on the subject, which first stimulated the public to the acquisition of more extensive and accurate information. His work has been attacked with unusual
acrimony by Ritson; the editor has been branded with ignorance, imposition, and every species of reproach which malignity could suggest; and every fault which learned petulance could discover, has been pointed out with a curious and offensive officiousness: even the profession of the Doctor has not escaped numerous sneers; and it is singular, that a man whose own avocation has been the constant theme of vulgar animadversion should have condescended to this lowest species of ribaldry. I have dilated with pleasure on the merits of Bishop Percy's work; I will now state with the sincerest humility, what I esteem its only serious imperfection; I conceive it to be the duty of an editor, to republish every work in the state he finds it in ancient copies or manuscripts, and not to make arbitrary alterations, without previously informing his readers; and still less pardonable is it to pretend that he possesses an ancient manuscript, in which his new readings are to be found. The alterations of Percy are numerous : I am con
vinced, that hardly a single poem, I had almost said a single page, is to be found in the work, in which material changes are not made. I will willingly concede that these (abstractedly considered), may have been improvements; but I contend that when such alterations are frequent, systematic, and unnoticed, the poetry of different ages is confounded; the reader is in a state of perpetual delusion, he is deprived of some pleasure, and much instruction in marking the progress of our ancient bards in the refinement of their diction, and the euphony of their numbers; it would be invidious to dwell on the minor defects, of a work of so much excellence. I cheerfully pass
and shall simply state, that the venerable prelate has ascribed a false importance to the English ballad singer, who never was
High placed in hall, a welcome guest,” like the more fortunate foreigner, who visited this island; but was compelled to earn a scanty subsistence, by chaunting his bal