1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. James McHenry

James McHenry, Preface, in Bard of Erin (1808) vi-viii.



For obtruding the following poems upon the notice of my countrymen I can offer no other apology than an ardent, and, I hope, allowable ambition to gain their esteem.

I was found by the Muse amidst the shades of obscurity, where I had no opportunities of acquiring that degree of learned cultivation which is so necessary to the attainment of literary distinction; and it was under peculiar circumstances, more inimical to poetical pursuits than have often been experienced by authors, that I received whatever favours she has bestowed upon me. She found me, indeed, in rusticity, plain, undisguised, and unsophisticated by the fashions of the world, but she found that I was apt to feel, and that I had the misfortune of not being, at all times, capable of suppressing my feelings.

An hereditary attachment to my Country was the only inheritance that I derived from my forefathers; and from the moment that I could distinguish her from another, I have cherished that attachment with the fondest pride. Often has my childish imagination delighted to contemplate that nobleness of mind and frankness of manner which characterise the heroes of our ancient History; often with a glowing heart, have I listened to the strains of a national ballad when I could form no judgment of its merits, and often, with the ardour of emulation, have I poured my overflowing feelings into numbers, before I understood the rudiments of the language in which I composed.

The charms of a favourite maid, the beauties of a neighbouring landscape, and the ancient glory of Erin's Harp, were, almost invariably, the inspiring themes of these juvenile and illiterate effusions, which were never produced with any other view than the gratification of a momentary impulse. But when a more improved taste and a maturer judgment, meliorated my rude conceptions and reduced them to something like rationality and method, I began to have an eye to the periodical publications of the province. Accordingly a few of my pieces appeared during the last winter, in the Belfast Newspapers, with the signature of M'ERIN, and, as far as I could learn, they met with approbation. But I was not satisfied with this. I had been honoured with the notice of several highly distinguished literary characters, from whose commendations of my poetry I could not but conceive that it had some merit. Flattered and encouraged as I was, by their favourable opinion, having assurances of their support, and stimulated at the same time, I acknowledge, by a fond desire to lay some claims to that approbation from the public, which I had received from individuals, I determined, after some deliberation, to risk the publication of a few of my pieces. This I was necessitated to do by subscription, because my inclination constrained me to publish in my own country, where, it is to be lamented, there is no other mode of publication that affords an prospect of success.

A larger volume would, perhaps, have been more advantageous to my first appearance as an author, but, besides that I was willing to try the success of a specimen, my present avocation did not afford me sufficient leisure to arrange a larger collection.

Young, and too little acquainted with the general ways of the world, to know how far prudence can justify the steps I have taken, it is under the most awful apprehensions that I await the result. I am conscious, however, that the native generosity of IRISHMEN will induce them to look with partiality upon the works of a poet, whose highest gratification is to sing their praise, and whose proudest wish is to gain their applause.

Larne, August, 1808.