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THE following Biographical and Critical Sketches have been compiled for the use of teachers, and for such of their pupils, in the advanced classes, as may be qualified to profit by the study of literary biography. It was thought that the Selections from the Poete would be read with a more lively interest, and with a greater probability of making a lasting impression, if accompanied by notices of their authors. To youthful readers there is no department of literature more attractivo and useful than biography. It conveys instruction in a simple and pleasing form. The great object effected by it is the improvement of the mind by means of example, which is frequently more powerful in its influence than mere precept. Impressed with a conviction of this truth, the compiler trusts that the memoirs of the several writers, drawn up expressly for this work, will have the effect of inducing the young student to enter upon a more extensive field of biographical inquiry, and of qualifying him to exercise a sound judgment on their literary merits.
In the preparation of these notices of eminent British poets, the compiler has endeavoured to be accurate and impartial. He does not lay claim either to extensive research or original criticism; he aspires only to the
humble merit of careful industry, and of having laboured, with indefatigable zeal, to promote the mental improvement of those for whose benefit the present undertaking is designed. He has availed himself of the most recent and authentic sources of information, and compressed, within comparatively narrow limits, a large mass of valuable information respecting the great masters of our poetical literature. Of the lives of many authors he had not space to give more than a simple outline. Some have been unavoidably omitted for want of room, although the names of the writers occupy a conspicuous place in the annals of British poetry. There are several of whose history he had not facilities for obtaining correct information, and others are yet living. Of those poets whose writings have created a new era in literature, or exercised a powerful influence in forming and directing popular taste, he has giver a more comprehensive account. Arrong the many poets from whose works selections have been taken; there are some whose lives present features of peculiar interest, and which cannot be studied without producing a moral effect on the mind. The biographies of this class have been given more fully than in other compendiums of a similar kind.
Many of the earlier contributors to English poetry, whose lives and productions are not accessible to the generality of readers, are included in the Biographical Sketches. The principal works of each author have been enumerated, and the sources from which the compiler has obtained his leading facts and critical judg ments, have been acknowledged. Conscious of his own incompetency, he has not presumed to exercise the office of critic; but he has availed himself largely of the labours of others, and has appended to his preliminary summaries the opinions of the highest authorities on the
merits of each poet. These form a valuable series of criticisms, selected from the best disquisitions in the English language, and which may be justly regarded as models in that department of composition. In borrowing freely from the critical writings of living authors, he has done so only for the purpose of illustration, and in the hope that his readers may be induced to peruse the works from which his quotations have been taken. From an attentive perusal of the interesting narratives contained in this manual of literary biography, teachers of schools and a select number of advanced pupils, may derive much useful information respecting the character and progress of British poetry. It will assist them, in some degree, to form an accurate judgment of the style of its most distinguished writers, and to appreciate the beauty of the specimens collected from their works.
The compiler has carefully abstained from discussions of a controversial nature, whether upon topics of a political or a religious character. His aim has been to state facts with impartiality, not to express opinions upon disputed questions. Without attaching undue value to his labours, he feels himself justified in expressing his confident expectation, that the attempt he has made, with the sanction of the Commissioners of Education in Ireland, to supply the teachers of the National, and of other schools, with a comprehensive summary of literary biography, will be favourably received. It will be sufficient, it is hoped, with the introductions elsewhere given to the different species of poetry, to convey a general idea of the rise and progress of our poetical literature. The perusal of these biographies will also, it is presumed, have the effect of giving youthful students a relish for a higher class of poetry, and of inducing them to read the works of those great writers, whose original genius, refined taste, and power
ful imagination, have enriched its treasures with the most splendid productions of the human intellect.
It has been deemed the most useful arrangement to detach the Biographical Sketches from the Poetry. In adopting this course a two-fold object has been kept in view. It is intended that the lives should be studied, separately, after school hours. They will be an acceptable companion in the library of teachers, and in the family circle. Portions of the Biographical Sketches may also be used advantageously in connexion with the poetical selections from the respective authors. In the preface to the Selections from the Poets, this plan is strongly recommended, and an explanation given of how it should be carried into effect. Sketches of the most distinguished poets of the present century were intended to form a part of the present volume, and considerable progress had been made in their preparation; but it was found impossible to include them without extending it to an inconvenient size.
In conclusion, the editor of this work may venture to express a hope, that it is ealculated to expand and strengthen the mind; to foster a taste for literary improvement; and to inspire the young student with a love of all that is pure in thought, beautiful in expression, and moral in tendency. "From the lives of some poets," Sir Walter Scott has justly observed, "a most important moral lesson may doubtless be derived; and few compositions can be read with so much profit as the Memoirs of Burns, of Chatterton, or of Savage. Were I conscious of any thing peculiar in my own moral character, which could render such development necessary or useful, I would as readily consent to it, as I would bequeath my body to dissection, if the operation could tend to point out the nature and the means of curing any particular malady."