1778 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Graham

Charles Graham, "Preface," Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose and Verse (1778) iii-ix.



When a person has once ventured to appear in a public character, and has submitted his thoughts to the inspection of the public eye; he must naturally suppose they will be examined with the strictest scrutiny; and if the least flaw or inaccuracy appear, even in the minutest circumstance, the whole will be censured with the greatest virulence and acrimony, by those formidable heroes the critics. But a true critic, (according to Mr. ADDISON'S definition) is a man of a liberal mind, and of enlarged ideas, who makes it his business to point out the beauties of any performance, casting a modest shade over those slight imperfections, so incident to our nature. For

Who thinks a faultless piece to see,
Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be.

The greatest authors have their imperfections; but they are only like the spots in the sun, which contribute to display in a conspicuous light, the splendor of the luminous body. In bodies more opaque, those spots would never have been discovered. To speak without a metaphor, imperfections in an author, do not prove him to be totally destitute of merit; nor ought his compositions to be indiscriminately contemned, because some parts of them betray that imperfection, which so emphatically marks human nature.
My motive for publishing, has already been anticipated in my former address to the public. — I would, by no means, have it understood that I offer these attempts as master-pieces of the kind; I am neither so vain nor so ignorant as to imagine it. My situation in life, necessarily precludes me from making use of those advantageous opportunities, so essentially requisite for those who aim at elegant, spirited, and accurate composition. Men of a speculative cast, who have studied the passions, are not to be told, that there are certain seasons, when a man my compose with ease and facility, what, at other periods, he could by no means compass. Those who are professional students, whose lives are solely dedicated to speculation and study, are not always prepared to write with advantage. Those persons, therefore, who are fired with emulation to excel in literary composition seize those happy moments, when the mind is wrapt in a kind of enthusiasm, or strongly imprest with some favourite theme. When, (as MILTON says)

—above th' Olympian hill I soar,
Above the flight of Pegasean wing.

It is then, and only then, that the writer can exert himself to advantage, or execute his subject either to his own, or the reader's satisfaction; for, tho' all men are not endued with the power of expressing their ideas in words; yet there are few, who are not capable of feeling, in some degree, the sentiments of a writer, who was himself actuated by those passions which he endeavours to excite in others. That I have been in a great measure, precluded from embracing opportunities of this kind, is well known to those who are particularly acquainted with my situation in life.
The following attempts were composed at those short intervals between labour and rest; which, in all probability, might otherwise have been less advantageously employed. The above considerations, may account for many of the pieces being so short. However, if they were as happily executed as many of them are well chosen, I should have some hopes of meeting with approbation. If I fail in this, it will afford me some consolation, that my designs were laudable. If any should object, that some pieces are of too satirical a cast, I must here remark, that none of them are particularly pointed.
Vices, not persons, are the objects of my animadversion; the virtuous have nothing to fear from my pen, and if the reigning follies of the ages appear ridiculous, when impartially displayed, blame the follies and not me.
Other pieces may be thought of too serious a nature, to which objection I answer, that when I almost daily see some of my fellow mortals removed from time to eternity, I cannot forbear being at times, rather serious.
Most of the poetical pieces were written on occasional subjects; and many of them about that period, when our unhappy contest with the colonies was at its greatest height; and have some allusion thereto. But I hope, none of my readers will take offence on these accounts. I have not endeavoured to enflame, but rather to allay, the baneful animosities. My remarks are of the pacific kind; being quite sensible that devastation and slaughter, are altogether incompatible with the christian name.
Some of the prose pieces were addressed to the editors of the magazines; and I have thought it better that they sould now appear in that dress; because I feared, that by moulding them into any other form, they would probably loose some of their force and spirit. The intelligent reader, will also observe, that others of my pieces have formerly been inserted in various periodical publications under fictitious signatures, and some, entirely anonymous. They are now, all collected into one point of view. Such as they are, they now appear. Had I been inclined to plagiarism, I should have given the public a much better collection, for I am a much better judge, than a fabricator, of ingenious composition. If I have happened to stumble upon a thought that some other writer has discussed with much more ingenuity, it was mere accident; as I can safely aver, that I never attempted to copy the thoughts of others, but to be as much original as possible, tho' I should fall short in point of elegance.
In regard to the quantity of print and paper, I trust this collection will be found the cheapest book that ever was offered to the world by subscription. It contains more than many original publications of three times the price.
The execution of the printing will, I hope, give satisfaction. The paper is not worse than I proposed; and the number of sheets are more than I expected. Some small errors of the press, are almost unavoidable; but where the obvious sense of the matter is understood, the candid reader will pardon those little inaccuracies, and not impute them to the author.
But, as this book may possibly fall into the hands of some, who, being altogether unacquainted with the author, might presume that these little attempts were the highest efforts of CUMBERLAND genius: That my country may not be subject to so dangerous an imputation, which would be injurious to its honour and dignity; I must here inform them, that these pieces are only the production of a mechanic, who never was taught the rudiments of the English language. What may be expected from men of a liberal education, and of enlarged faculties, must be of a nature superior to these puny attempts; which, if they rise above mediocrity, will be a sufficient plaudit.
And now, to conclude, I embrace this opportunity of returning my sincere thanks to all my kind patrons and subscribers, who have so generously and liberally encouraged this undertaking; and to assure them, that I am, with the greatest respect and esteem,
their much obliged friend,
and hearty well-wisher,
CHARLES GRAHAM.
PENRITH,
June 15th, 1778.