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In pursuing the plan of an edition of the Standard British Poets, that should be, at the same time, so elegant as to be generally desirable, and so cheap as to be within the most moderate means, we have collected, in a single volume, the Complete Poetical Works of Collins, Gray, and Goldsmith, with notes, memoirs, and engraved portraits of the authors.
The memoirs are believed to be sufficiently full for a work of this kind. Nothing important in the lives, or in relation to the poetical works of the authors, has been designedly omitted. The original notes of all have been given, without omission or abbreviation, and from various sources such others have been added as in the editor's judgment were desirable in the way of explanation or commentary.
In settling the text of Collins, we have carefully collated the best editions; and the biographical sketch has been chiefly prepared from the materials collected by Mr. Dyce, with occasional reference to other sources of authentic information. We have omitted, without much reluctance, the critical dissertations of Dr. Langhorne, with which the editions of Collins have usually been swelled to the dimensions of a profitable book. At first they were, to some extent, useful in advertising the unacknowledged merits of the poet; but even then they were condemned as mere devices to enhance the size and price of the volume. For the first-named purpose they are no longer necessary, and it is therefore not uncharitable to believe that the extra "shilling" is the only inducement to their republication in late editions.
With regard to Gray, we have consulted the publications of Mason and Matthias, and have been much indebted to the editorial labors and researches of Mr. Mitford, as displayed, not only in the five volumes of the Aldine issue of Gray's writings, but more recently in the Eton edition of his poems, supervised by the Rev. Mr. Moultrie. The biographical sketch prefixed to the last-named volume is from the pen of Mr. Mitford, and is enriched with his latest gleanings in a field to which he has devoted himself with wellrewarded diligence. We have transferred to an appendix a few trifling productions attributed to Gray, which do not appear in the volume of the Aldine edition assigned to the poems. They may be found, however, in one of the later volumes, which have never been reprinted in this country.
We reprint all the poems of Goldsmith that are contained in any approved edition of his works; following chiefly the text adopted by Mr. Bolton Corney in the volume so beautifully illustrated by the Etching Club. This text we have compared carefully with that of the excellent edition of Goldsmith's works just published by Mr. Murray under the editorial charge of Mr. Peter Cunningham, and in some instances have adopted the version approved by the latter. In preparing the memoir, we have sometimes consulted Mr. Prior's materials, but have chiefly relied on the more recent work of Mr. Forster, which we cannot but commend as a valuable contribution to literature, as well as a most entertaining history of the life and adventures of Goldsmith.
We should do great injustice to Mr. Murray if we omitted to mention that we have also been indebted to his valuable edition for a poem which must constitute perhaps the most attractive, as it is the most novel feature of the volume now submitted to the public. We allude to the translation by Dr. Goldsmith of the celebrated poem by Vida, entitled The Game of Chess. This translation is as carefully elaborated as the best of his original poems. How it happens that it should so long have escaped the research of Goldsmith's editors, we cannot well comprehend; but of its authenticity we imagine there can be no doubt. We know that Dr. Percy mentions in one of his letters the existence of a manuscript poem of Goldsmith more considerable than any of his posthumous poems which had appeared. This may be the production alluded to by Dr. Percy, but its history is not given by Mr. Cunningham. At present, we only know on the authority of Mr. Forster, Mr. Corney, and Mr. Cunningham, that it exists in the handwriting of Goldsmith; and no one can for a moment imagine that he would have transcribed a production of such length if it were not his own. The ingenuity and skill with which the poem is translated prove that it must be from a hand not inferior to Goldsmith's,— and where should we look for such another?
We believe, therefore, that we have been successful in the effort to present an edition of the poets embraced in this volume which possesses some advantages, independently of beauty and cheapness, over any other extant; and which will fairly entitle it to the favor that has been extended to its predecessors in the same series.