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WITH NOTES CORRECTIVE AND EXPLANATORY,
BY PETER CUNNINGHAM, F.S.A.
IN THREE VOLUMES.-VOL. I.
of Translation in Foreign countries.
In the year 1777 the booksellers of London, fearing an invasion of their literary preserves by the publication at Edinburgh of an edition of the British Poets from Chaucer to Churchill, resolved on publishing a rival edition, more correct in text than that of Bell, and at the same time superior in print and paper. To give a greater attraction to their undertaking, they agreed that to the works of each author a concise account of his life should be prefixed, and Dr. Johnson, as the most distinguished of his contemporaries, was solicited to undertake the task. Johnson was pleased with the offer, and undertook to write what he describes in a letter to Boswell as “little Lives and little Prefaces to a little edition of the English Poets."
The Edinburgh collection thus dreaded by the London trade was the first attempt to form a complete body of British poetry, and in its design the publication set on foot by an unassisted individual in Edinburgh is preferable to the collection made by the trade in London. Neither, however, is good, whether for general accuracy of text, or the selection of authors. Many who have hardly a claim to be considered poets were admitted by the courtesy of criticism into both editions, the right of selection resting, in both instances oddly enough, with the booksellers, in whose judgment, as men of trade, the Poet whose works were not in demand was doubly dead. The Drama was excluded. Four insignificant poets, Blackmore, Pomfret, Yalden, and Watts, were recommended by Johnson for insertion in the London collection ; and beyond the Prefaces (afterwards reprinted as Lives) this recommendation of