Considered as a nation, we are yet but imperfectly recovered from that strange and ungrateful forgetfulness of our older poets, which began with the restoration, and continued almost unbroken till after the middle of the last century. Nor can the works which have chiefly tended to dispel it among the educated orders, be ranked in a very high class.
Percy's Relics of Ancient Poetry produced, we believe, the first revulsion; and this was followed up by Warton's History of Poetry. Johnson's Lives of the Poets did something; but the great effect has been produced by the modern commentators on Shakspeare. These various works recommended the older writers, and reinstated them in some of their honours; still the works themselves were not placed before the eyes of ordinary readers. This was done in part, perhaps overdone, by the entire republication of some of our elder dramatists, and with better effect by Mr. Ellis's specimens. If the former, however, was rather too copious a supply for the returning appetite of the public, the latter was too scanty, and both were confined to too narrow a portion of time to enable the reader to enjoy the variety, and to draw the comparison, by which he might be most pleased and instructed.
There is no reader, we will venture to say, who will rise from the perusal, even of the partial and scanty fragments contained in Campbell's Specimens of the British Poets, without a deep sense of the matchless richness, variety, and originality of English poetry: while the juxta position and arrangement of the pieces not only give room for endless comparisons and contrasts, but displays, as it were, in miniature, the whole of its wonderful progress; and sets before us, as in a great gallery of pictures, the whole course and history of the art, from its first rude and infant beginnings, to its maturity, and, perhaps, its decline.