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The present volume is the result of a taste for collecting poetical quotations, which beset me in the days of my nonage, now more than half a century ago. At that time I belonged to a society of exuberant youths, who rivalled each other in spicing their conversation with scraps of poetry, sometimes Latin, but oftener English; and one of them, who had an extraordinary memory, never failed to be profuse in this kind of embellishment. Being of an age and temperament to imbibe the contagion, and naturally emulous of distinction among my companions, I read the poets diligently, and registered, in a portable form, whatever I thought apposite and striking.
At that period there existed scarcely any books of English quotations practically accessible : Allot's ‘England's Parnassus,' published as long back as 1600, and which gives only the earlier poets, used to sell for upwards of five pounds. Poole's English Parnassus,' which followed in 1657, was comparatively useless, being ill digested and entirely without authorities; and Hayward's British Muse, published in 1738, though very satisfactory as far as it goes, and always within reach of a moderate purse, stops short at Herrick, and consequently omits Milton, Butler,
Waller, Dryden, Addison, Prior, Gay, Pope, Swift, Thomson, and a great many others who flourished within his time; and these were precisely the poets we most cared to cultivate. In later years, but too late for my youthful purposes, Messrs. Whittaker brought out a Dictionary of Quotations from the British Poets, in 3 vols. post 8vo., one for Shakespeare in 1823, another for Blank Verse in 1821, and the third for Rhyme in 1825, all anonymous, but known to be by Wm. Kingdom. This work, which subsequently became my property, is a very careful and excellent compilation, and has been largely used by subsequent compilers, English and American, especially the latter, without in any instance, as far as I can discover, having been acknowledged or even mentioned by them.
Within the last few years there has been a perfect deluge of Quotation books of every kind, some consisting merely of short consecutive extracts from a few of our principal poets, which it seems to me any intelligent reader might make quite as well for himself; others inconveniently arranged under initial letters, or the principal word of a first line, which often carries a quotation far away from its natural place; others again, without any authorities whatever, or giving them so sparsely, imperfectly, or faultily, as to render their books teazing and of scarcely any literary value. The most exempt from these short-comings, and the most satisfactory, so far as my examination has extended, is Mr. Grocott's small volume entitled an Index to Familiar Quotations.' This gives the authorities with exemplary precision, and possesses
a good Index, which is a great convenience for tracing required lines; but the selection is very limited, without the least observance of chronological order, and the arrangement, though professedly according to subjects, is too often determined merely by a leading word; for instance, Pope's fine lines on Providence, ending with “whatever is, is right,” are placed under the word “All,” because they so commence. Mr. Friswell's recent volume entitled Familiar Words' has exactly the same advantages and disadvantages, even to the extent of placing the same lines in the very same place. But principles of arrangement have ever been open to discussion, and some may prefer what I disapprove to what I have adopted; neither is it my province to criticise my predecessors, and I do so, in the present instance, only by way of shewing my divergence from their plans.
My own volume must speak for itself: it has grown by slow degrees from its original embryo to the portly shape it now assumes, and has been especially enlarged since I came to the determination, some four or five years since, to prepare it for press. The arrangement of subjects, as will be seen, is alphabetical, in the manner of a common place book, and the quotations, so far as printing convenience would permit, are placed chronologically. Some few duplications will be found under synonymes; a defect, if it is one, which I have found unavoidable.
I had not in my early selections affixed chapter and verse references to the extracts, but merely the author's name; in some instances trusting to my memory, in others unable to give them, owing to the then prevalent
want of editions in which the poet's lines were numbered. And in connection with this explanation, I take leave to say that no edition of a poet should be printed without a proper numbering of the lines or stanzas, so as to afford ready means of reference; and the few which I have myself edited or published are so provided ; but I regret to see that many editions, even of recent date, are in this respect conspicuously deficient. Although I have endeavoured to remedy my early neglect of minute references, by subsequent reading, I have not in all instances been successful, even in respect to poets with which I presumed myself to be perfectly familiar, such as Butler, whose Hudibras, I have had occasion to read through, for editorial purposes, some three or four times. I hope, however, to remedy whatever omissions or imperfections may from time to time be discovered by an Appendicula of Curæ posteriores ; for which object I court criticism and communications.
I have only to add that this volume, whatever its merits or demerits, will have cost me, independently of my personal labour, several hundred pounds; and that it is not printed for sale but exclusively for presents to my friends and acquaintances, or persons of public esteem, with whom I have had, or may hereafter have, social relations.
HENRY G. BOHN. NoRTu Exd Horse, TWICKEXHAU.