A character of this collection has been given by Oldys in the Preface to Hayward's British Muse, and copied into the new edition of the Theatrum Poetarum Anglicanorum (800). I shall not therefore repeat it here. It may however be added, that notwithstanding the defects with which Oldys rather too severely taxes it, time has given it a value, which every lover of old English poetry will duly estimate. Seventy years ago the greater part of the authors, from whom extracts, too short indeed, are here given, were forgotten; the curiosity and diligence of the present day has revived all their memories; and perhaps recovered and ascertained every poem, from whence the passages are borrowed. The laborious searches of the late Mr. Ritson in this way will establish his fame, in spite of his dullness, and his unhappy disposition. And the still superior knowledge of some living friends, (whom I know too well, to offend them by adding their names,) blended as it is with taste and fancy, has lately thrown a grace and interest on this branch of bibliography, which is daily increasing the public curiosity regarding a part of our national antiquities, the most illustrative of the progress of human manners and civil society. The state of our knowledge on these subjects is materially altered since the time of Oldys, who, though his bibliographical erudition was very eminent, after having observed that R. Allot, the editor of this Collection, "cites no more than the names of his authors to their verses," could add, that "most of them were now so obsolete, that not knowing what they wrote, we can have no recourse to their works, if still extant." He then, a little too severely, says, that "what renders this and the other Collection (The Belvedere, or Garden of the Muses, 1600, 8vo.) very defective, and prevents them from affording the redundant light, of which they were capable, is the little merit of the obsolete poets, from which they are in a great measure extracted; which want of merit, as Sir Philip Sydney justly observes, "is the cause of their wanting esteem."
But there is scarcely a single volume of old poetry, which ever obtained even a short-lived reputation, from whence some good may not be extracted. Some traits of manners, some memorials of temporary sentiment, some forms of expression, some records of departed merit, which it is a pity should entirely perish, are sure to be preserved in them. And in such a collection as the present it is highly instructive to observe, constantly intermixed, and floating with the same apparent credit by each other's side, those who have for ages been left behind on shoals and in creeks silent and forgotten, and those who still are borne forward by the increasing impulse of the gale of Fame! The perpetual comparison will enable us to appreciate, in the most certain and striking manner, the qualities by which a lasting reputation is ensured.
This Collection is dedicated, in the following Sonnet,
"To the Right Worshipful Sir Thomas Mounson, Kt,
English Maecenas, Bounty's elder brother,
The spreading wing, whereby my fortune flies;
Unto thy wit, and virtues, and none other,
I consecrate these sacred Poesies;
Which, whilst they live, as they must live for ever,
Shall give thy honour life, and let men know,
That those, to succour virtue who persever,
Shall conquer Time, and Lethe's overflow.
I pick'd these flowers of learning from their stem,
Whose heavenly wits and golden pens have chac'd
Dull ignorance that long affronted them:
In view of whose great glories thou art plac'd,
That whilst their wisdoms in these writings flourish,
Thy fame may live, whose wealth doth wisdom nourish.
Your Worships humbly at Command,
"To the Reader."
I hang no ivy out to sell my wine;
The nectar of good wits will sell itself;
I fear not, what detraction can define;
I sail secure from Envy's storm or shelf.
I set my picture out to each man's view,
Lim'd with those colours, and so cunning arts,
That like the phoenix will their age renew,
And conquer envy by their good deserts.
If any cobler carp above his shoe,
I rather pity, than repine his action;
For ignorance still maketh much ado,
And wisdom loves that, which offends detraction.
Go fearless forth, my book; hate cannot harm thee;
Apollo bred thee, and the Muses arm thee.
The first set of extracts is under the head of "Angels," and begins with twenty-one lines from Spenser, followed by passages from Drayton, Fairfax, Warner, and Shakspeare. The next is under "Ambition," beginning with Daniel, and succeeded by Markham, Chapman, Spenser, Drayton, Higgins, Lodge, Warner, Hudson, Gascoigne, Dekkar, and Fairfax. The third is "Affection," from Shakspeare, Marlow, and Spenser. The fourth "Affliction," from Davies; the fifth "Audacity," from Warner, Shakspeare, and Weever; and the sixth "Art," from Drayton, Marston, Chapman, Jonson, Lodge, Storer, Harington, Fitz-Geffrey and Spenser; — the seventh "Avarice," from Spenser, Harington, Sylvester, Warner, Shakspeare, and Dekkar. Here end the titles under the letter A.