William Oldys

George Saintsbury, in History of English Literary Criticism (1911) 298n.

The book [The British Muse] has a preface of some length (which is said to be, like the dedication, the work not of the compiler but of Oldys himself), criticising its predecessors (including Gildon) rather severely, and showing knowledge of English criticism generally; but the point of chief interest about the book is its own interest in, and extensive draughts from, Elizabethan Drama. Not merely "the divine and incomparable" Shakespeare, not merely the still popular sock and buskin of Ben Jonson and of Beaumont and Fletcher, but almost all the others, from Massinger and Middleton down to Goffe and Gomersall, receive attention, although, as he tells us, they were so hard to get that you had to give between three or four pounds for a volume containing some ten plays of Massinger. This is noteworthy; but that his zeal was not according to full knowledge is curiously shown by the contempt with which he speaks, not merely of Bodenham's Belvedere, but of Allot's England's Parnassus, alleging "the little merit of the obsolete poets from which they were extracted." Now it should be unnecessary to say that Allot drew, almost as largely as his early date permitted him, on "the divine and incomparable" himself, on Spenser, and on others only inferior to these. But this carping at forerunners is too common. If Oldys could write thus, what must have been the ignorance of others?