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BEFORE adverting to the object and arrangement of the present work, it may be proper to mention the principal collections of epigrams, which have been previously published in this country. “A Collection of Epigrams: To which is prefixed a Critical Dissertation on this Species of Poetry," 2nd edition, 1735 (sometimes ascribed, but without sufficient proof, to Oldys), is stated in the preface to be the first miscellany of epigrams that has appeared in English.” This is a mistake. A collection, entitled “Skialetheia,” was published in 1598, and another in 1641. In 1654 appeared a collection of some importance, entitled, “Recreation for Ingenious Ilead-pieces : or a Pleasant Grove for their Wits to Walk in.” The Collection of 1735; “A Collection of Select Epigrams,” by Hackett, 1757; “The Poetical Farrago," 1794; and the selection in "Elegant Extracts," are without any kind of arrangement. “Recreation for Ingenious Head-pieces,” is divided into epigrams, epitaphs, fancies, and fantastics. “ T'he Festoon: A Collection of Epigrams, Ancient and Modern," by Graves, of which the second and enlarged edition was published in 1767, is divided into panegyrical, satirical, monumental, and other sections. “Select Epigrams,” 1797, is chronological, with anonymous epigrams at the end. These collections have a sprinkling of translations from the Greek, but they all accept the Roman type as the favourite. “Select Epigrams," how
ever, gives, more than the others, the purer epigrams of modern poets. The Mediæval and Early Modern Latin Epigrammatists, with the exception of Buchanan and Owen, are not represented at all in these works. “ Recreation for Ingenious Head-pieces" contains, as might be expected from the date of its publication, many specimens of the writings of the Early English Epigrammatists; but Sir John Harington and Ben Jonson are the only writers of the early period of our literature who are noticed in any of the later collections. Yet, defective as are these works, they are of great value, for they have preserved a large number of epigrams, which would otherwise have been lost, and many of which could ill be spared. The last of the old collections is the “ Panorama of Wit,” 1809, which was succeeded after a long interval by “ Epigrams, Ancient and Modern,” by the Rev. J. Booth. It may be right to state that not the slightest use has been made of Mr. Booth's book in the preparation of the present selection.
Among the collections confined to that form of the epigram, called epitaphs, may be mentioned, “Select Epitaphs,” edited by Toldervy, 1755; “ Select and Remarkable Epitaphs," with accounts of the deceased, by Hackett, 1757; “A Collection of Epitaphs and Monumental Inscriptions," 1806; and “Chronicles of the Tombs," by the late Dr. Pettigrew, 1847.
One of the projected publications of Dr. Johnson was a “Collection of Epigrams, with Notes and Observations.” Had he carried out his plan, the work would have been a most valuable addition to our epigrammatic literature. Thoroughly acquainted with the Greek and Roman Anthologies, with the Foreign Mediæval Poets, and the English Epigrammatists, guided by a true poetic taste, and gifted with unusual critical acumen, he would have arranged a selection which would have displayed the flowers of epigram-writing of all ages, while his notes and observations would have delighted the scholar and instructed the unlearned.
Dr. Johnson relinquished his design. May the shadow of his great name rest upon this attempt to make a selection from the works of the Epigrammatists more interesting by notes, observations, and illustrative quotations ! I believe that no collection of this character has ever been published. Bare epigrams, following the one upon the other, without connection and without pause, are apt to weary the reader; and I hope that value may be given to many of the pieces, as well as pleasure in the perusal of them increased, by showing their sources, their parallels, and, when it can be discovered, their association with historical events and domestic circumstances. The plan is, in some respects, the same as that proposed by Dr. Johnson; but let not the execution be measured by the standard of what he would have done; for, alas! the ghost of the sage may rise in wrath, and thunder forth a parody of an epigram of Martial :
Sir, the plan you've adopted is good, for 'tis mine;
But th' execution 's so bad-let it pass for thine. The aim of this work is to give a selection of the best epigrams of various periods; including medieval and early modern Latin, and early English, epigrams, which have been neglected by previous collectors. In the modern section my chief care has been to direct attention to the Epigrammatists of our own country; but some of the most noted of those of France and Germany are also noticed. Believing the Greek inscriptions to be the best models for epigrammatic writing, I have inserted many modern pieces which take that form, although, according to the perverted ideas of later times, they would scarcely be considered epigrams. Some pieces, also, which bear an epigrammatic character will be found, although they cannot be strictly referred to any model. Some of the epigrams are well known. I have not considered this a reason for omitting
them, except in the case of a few of inconvenient length; for our most popular ones are commonly cited incorrectly, and are often ascribed to wrong authors.
It has been my great anxiety to admit nothing which might render the collection unfit for the perusal of the young.
A few coarse expressions may be found, which can hardly be avoided in reproducing the writings of past times; but none, I trust, which even border upon real impropriety.
The arrangement is chronological, in order that the gradual changes in epigrammatic literature, and the influence of periods upon that style of writing, may be clearly displayed; and that thus the work may be, to some extent, a history of the species of poetry, which, notwithstanding the variety of its types, is known under the general name of epigram.
A selection from the epigrams of each author is placed under his name; others are scattered through the work for comparison or illustration. All can be readily found by means of the Index. The epigrams are illustrated by others, which may be the originals whence they are taken, or which may be compared with them on account of similarity of thought or language; and passages from the Poets are used in the same manner, for the purpose of showing identity of tone, or as illustrative of the subject of the verses. Explanations are given of epigrams which depend for their interest upon circumstances of the day, or events in the life of the epigrammatist, or of the person upon whom, or to whom, he writes. Observations and anecdotes are added whenever the epigrams can be made more interesting by such means. Slight biographical notices of the authors, with the exception of those well known to every reader, are prefixed; because the pleasure of reading is always increased by some knowledge of the writer, and books where such information can be obtained are not always at hand. A section consisting of epigrams, the authors of which I