The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets/Volume 1
OF THE MOST EMINENT
TO THE EDITION OF 1783.
THE Booksellers having determined to publish a Body of English Poetry, I was persuaded to promise them a Preface to the Works of each Author; an undertaking, as it was then presented to my mind, not very extensive or difficult.
My purpose was only to have allotted to every Poet an Advertisement, like those which we find in the French Miscellanies, containing a few dates and a general character; but I have been led beyond my intention, I hope, by the honest desire of giving useful pleasure. In this minute kind of History, the succession of facts is not easily discovered; and I am not without suspicion that some of Dryden's works are placed in wrong years. I have followed Langbaine, as the best authority for his plays, and, if I shall hereafter obtain a more correct chronology, will publish it; but I do not yet know that my account is erroneous.
As this undertaking was occasional and unforeseen, I must be supposed to have engaged in it with less provision of materials than might have been accumulated by longer premeditation. Of the later writers at least I might, by attention and enquiry, have gleaned many particulars, which would have diversified and enlivened my Biography. These omissions, which it is now useless to lament, have been often supplied by the kindness of Mr. Steevens and others; and great assistance has been given me by Mr. Spence's Collections, of which I consider the communication as a favour worthy of publick acknowledgement.
- Langbaine's authority will not support the dates assigned to Dryden's Plays. These are now rectified in the margin by reference to the original Editions, the only guides to be relied on.R.
- In the Edition of Beaumont and Fletcher, by Mr. Colman.R.