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1 HE great author of the following works has long had the honour of being ranked in the first class of English Poets; for to the names of Shakspeare, Spencer, and Milton, we have now for near a century been in the habit of annexing those of Dryden, and his scholar, Pope. The present publication will shew, that he is equally entitled to our admiration as a writer of Prose ; and that among his various merits, that of having cultivated, refined, and improved our language, is not the least. In making, therefore, this Collection of his Critical and Miscellaneous Essays, which are found dispersed in a great variety of books, many of them now not easily to be procured, I trust that, while I have done an acceptable service to good letters and to the publick, I have at the same time in some degree contributed to the fame of the author ; a considerable portion of whose valuable writings will thus become accessible and familiar to a more numerous class of readers than the votaries of the
Muses, and whose reputation, high as it is at present, will consequently be extended to a still wider circle than that within which it has hitherto been confined.
In the arrangement of the various pieces contained in these volumes, chronological order has been attended to, as far as was consistent with other still more important objects. With a view to mutual illustration, I have placed together all the Essays respecting the Stage ; from which I have selected and given precedence to the seven prin cipal, both in value and bulk, as forming one great body of dramatick criticism. These are, the Essay of Dramatick Poesy, the Defence of that Essay, the Preface to the Mock Astrologer, the Essay on Heroick Plays, the Defence of the Epilogue to the Second Part of the Conquest of Granada, the Grounds of Criticism in Tragedy, and the Answer to Rymer. All our author's Dramatick Dedications and Prefaces, not comprised in the foregoing list, then follow, in the order of time in which they were written; and to these succeed all his other critical Prefaces, Dedications; Lives, and Miscellaneous Essays, chronologically arranged ; with the exception of the Preface to the Translation of Ovid's Epistles, which, for the sake of juxtaposition, is placed in the same yolume with the Preface to the Second Miscellany, hearly the same topicks being discussed in both . . The first edition of each piece has in general been followed: but here also some deviation was necessary; for on collating the second edition of the ESSAY OF DRAMATICK Poesy printed in 1684, with the first of 1668, I found that the author had corrected it with great care. From his revised copy, therefore, that Essay has been printed. In a Letter to his bookseller he mentions, that, previously to his Translation of Virgil being sent a second time to the press, he had spent nine days in reviewing it. As it was probable therefore, that some alterations and amendments were made in the Essays prefixed to that work, (though I now believe his revision was confined to the poetry,) I thought it safest, in printing those Essays, to follow the second edition ; here, however, as well as in the former instance, availing myself occasionally of such aid as the earlier copies afforded, by which some literal errours of the press, both in those Dissertations and the Dramatick Essay, have been corrected. Of every other piece in these volumes the first edition has been followed, excepting only the Defence of that Essay; of which the original copy is so rare, that I have never met with it.
Of Dryden's Letters, very few of which have ever been printed, I wished to form as ample a collection as could be procured ; and am highly indebted to William Baker, Esq., Representative in Parliament for the county of Hertford, who most
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obligingly has furnished me with all the correspondence, now extant, which passed between our author and his bookseller, Jacob Tonson, from whom these papers descended to that gentleman : which, beside exhibiting a lively portrait of this great poet, contain some curious documents respecting the price of his works, and some other interesting particulars concerning them. To this series I have added a letter written in his youth to Mrs. Honour Driden, from the original in the hands of the Rev. Mr. Blakeway, of Shrewsbury; a letter to John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, from a manuscript copy in the Museum ; one to Samuel Pepys, Esq., from the original in the Pepysian Collection in Magdalene College, Cambridge ; one to Charles Montague, afterwards Earl of Halifax, from the original in my possession ; and sixteen letters addressed, at a late period of life, to his kinswoman, Mrs. Steward, or her husband ; which have been obligingly communicated to me by her grand-daughter, Mrs. Gwillim, of Whitchurch, pear Ross, in Herefordshire, by the hands of Mrs. Ord, of Queen Anne-street. Some others have been found scattered in miscellaneous volumes ; and many more, I have no doubt, are in the possession of various persons, which might easily be discoyered, if they would but search their family papers. With the hope that such an examination may be made, I shall give, in a subsequent page, a list of those persons in whose cabinets Dryden's letters are likely to be found.