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In presenting this volume to the German nation, we will not claim their approbation from the partiality they have shown to British Literature ; — we will not point out to them the great utility of having the most elegant tone of English conversation for their instruction in the language; wherefore should we paint the delighting image of their identifying themselves with a sphere of individuals, whose manners and customs are so deeply tinged with originality and peculiarity of character; and invite them to consider John Bull entering their society in his own dress, touched off with his own high humour, and even with all his faults, calling upon the good-natured smile of all around him? The shades of Addison, Garrick, Steele would arise in offended pride, to hear their names once more invoked to serve the office of commendation to works which have already stood the test of nations, and out-lived the hand of time: no, their worth needs no interpreter, it speaks itself too plainly.
Yet with all the riches of the British Drama before us, we have found ourselves embarrassed to present our readers with a full specimen of its treasures; and, how plentiful soever this harvest may be, there still remains a great store behind; we wait only the fiat of the public to recommence our labours.
We refrain froin entering into a detail of the many inglorious causes of the decline of the stage these last two centuries, and will content ourselves with merely pointing it out, as a reason for our work's containing very few pieces written since that time.
It is but natural for us to have a desire to become more familiarly acquainted with the man whose writings have tended to amuse or instruct us; and hence our wish, not only to have free admission to his study, but also to follow him into the circle of his acquaintance, and sit with him at his fire-side surrounded by his family. It is here we can judge the human heart, and observe, if the precepts, inculcated on his readers, have been the guide of his own actions; and whatever be the result of our examination, it must interest our feelings and be a good exercise for ourselves. We have, therefore, endeavoured to give a faithful account of the public and private life of the authors whose writings are to be found in this volume.
The opinions of the English with respect to their own authors, how much soever they may differ from those of another nation, will answer as a point of opposition, and may assist the reader in his own critique. Each piece is, therefore, preceded by rcasons, more or less cogent, to add to or diminish its lustre; and these have been carefully selected from the writings of the greatest British critics, who may have noticed them, tempered by a few observations of our own.
The English nation has, of late years, become an object of curiosity to foreigners; and numerous has been the intelligent class of inquiring travellers, who have published their more or less true accounts of this people. How favourable soever may have been their opportunities for examining into the true spirit of the people, though the most prominent and general points of character may have been fully represented in their narration yet, from the particular circumstance of their being foreigners, they could not penetrate fairly iuto the minutiae. A series of writings, which brand the vicious with the mark of shame and punishment, and level the shaft of irony and laughter at folly, while they encourage and support real virtue and good sense, explained and put in their true light, with as much impartiality as human nature will allow in speaking of one's own country, must open a good field for the display of character. Hence the whole is accompanied with notes, explanatory of the localities and such circumstances as are liable to a double interpretation.
We cannot conclude this preface better than by laying before our readers a passage from the “lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres,” by that excellent critic Dr. Blair. In the third volume, when comparing the French and English comedy, he says, “from the English there we are naturally led to expect a greater variety of original characters in comedy and bolder strokes of wit and humour than are to be found on any other modern stage. Humour is in a great measurc the peculiar province of the English nation. The nature of such a free government as ours, and that unrestrained liberty which our manners allow to every man of living entirely after his own laste, afford full scope to the display of singularity of character and to the indulgence of humour in all its forms. Whereas in France the influence of the court, the more established subordinations of ranks and the universal observance of the forms of politeness and decorum, spread a much greater uniformity over the oulward behaviour and characters of men. Hence comedy has a more ample field and can flow with a much freer vein in Britain, than in France.”