It is generally acknowledged that the grand aera of English Poetry began about the middle of Queen Elizabeth's reign, and ended with the Civil Wars of Charles the first. Dryden and Pope are great names, and ought not to be mentioned without respect and veneration: They polished our numbers and brought versification to perfection. Satire was highly improved by both of them. Pope taught us to write correctly, but all the great parts of Poetry were complete before. Butler was the author of an admirable mock-heroic poem full of learning and wit; Prior improved the merry Tales of Fontaine, borrowed from Boccace; and Parnell and Grey have brought the Elegy to perfection. Satire, and mock-heroic, the ape of the true, are but assistants to the drama; and merry tales, and sweet elegies are only esteemed the ornamental parts of Poetry. The names of Shakespeare, Spenser, and Milton; Ben Jonson, Beaumont, and Fletcher, and Massinger; Drayton, Waller, and William Browne, will always stand in the first rank of great English Poets.
The Author whose works are now offered to the Public, met with a fate uncommon and unmerited by so great a Genius. He who was admired and beloved by all the best writers of his time; who was esteemed and recommended highly by the critical Jonson, and the learned Selden, was, in a few years after his death, almost forgotten.
It is true, that a few men of taste read him with pleasure in their closets, but the public scarce know that such a man ever existed. We can find no trace of an edition of William Browne's Works, since the usurpation of Oliver Cromwell.
The Publisher of this Work has received considerable assistance from several Gentlemen, who have kindly enabled him to make this Edition as complete as possible.
The Gentlemen of the King's Library were so obliging as to give him the use of the first Edition of Britannia's Pastorals, which had several Manuscript notes in the margin, written by the Rev. W. Thompson, late of Queen's College, Oxford. This seems to have been a favourite Poem with Mr. Thompson; and it is imagined, that he intended to print an Edition of it with notes and observations, those he has left are inserted in their proper places.
The Shepherd's Pipe consists of seven Eclogues, among which is an excellent Monody upon the death of his Friend Mr. Thomas Manwood, whom he calls Philarete; I dare not say that it is equal to the celebrated Lycidas of Milton, but surely it is not much inferior: That great genius has not disdained to imitate William Browne; and Lycidas owes its origin to Philarete.
This admirable collection of Eclogues was become so scarce, that if the Rev. Mr. Tho. Warton had not lent his own copy to be transcribed, the Publick might have been deprived of so valuable a treasure.
The Rev. Mr. Price of Oxford, was so obliging as to send the Publisher a correct copy taken from a MSS. in the Bodleian Library, of Browne's Elegy upon the death of Henry Prince of Wales, eldest Son of James the first. The Author took care to introduce this Poem in the first book of his Britannia's Pastorals, but on comparing it with Mr. Price's copy, the Reader will find some difference. His second thoughts are not perhaps happier than his first.
The Public is greatly obliged to Mr. Farmer of Emanuel College, Cambridge; he very kindly pointed out such passages in several Authors, as might serve to furnish materials for a short Account of the Author's life. Besides a Poem at the end of the Third Volume, he very obligingly procured from the Library of Emanuel College, the Inner Temple Masque, an excellent little poem, which had never been printed. Milton in all probability borrowed the idea of Comus from W. Browne's Masque.
The Bookseller, who has employed himself in reviving the noblest monuments of the Dead, hopes, soon to reprint a very excellent Collection of old Poems, called ENGLAND'S HELICON, or the MUSES HARMONY.
He cannot doubt of success, as he has been promised the assistance of Dr. Percy and Mr. Hawkins, a Gentleman well known in the learned world, and who is now employed in a very curious and valuable work; The History of Music, antient and modern, with anecdotes of the most eminent Musicians, and specimens of their works. By great good fortune he has in his possession some remains of our old English poets, which will greatly enrich the new Edition of England's Helicon.