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The history of England may be divided, properly enough, into three periods; very different, indeed, with regard to their duration, but almost of equal importance. The first is from the commencement of our knowledge of the country to its conquest by the Normans; the second, from the time of William the Conqueror to the alteration of the constitution, by the beheading of Charles I.; the last contains the remaining period of our history, It will at once appear, that such a division is extremely unequal: the first department may be said to extend to a period of more than a thousand years; the second contains not less than seven hundred, while the remaining does not take up two. Chronologists, indeed, would divide it in a very different manner; how. ever, I am rather inclined to this division, more by the peculiar use which may be made of each period, than the mere regularity of time. To consider the first part with accuracy, belongs properly to the philosopher; the second is the business of him who would understand our constitution, and is the proper study of a legislator; and the last, of such as would be acquainted with the connections and relations in which we stand with regard to our neighbors of the continent, and our foreign and domestic trade; that is, in other words, to the merchant and politician.
There is scarcely any other passion but that of curiosity, excited by a knowledge of the early part of our history. We may go through the accounts of that distant era with the same impartiality with which we consider the original inhabitants of any other country, as the customs of our British ancestors have scarcely any connection with our own; but then, to some minds, it must be a pleasing disquisition to observe the human animal, by degrees divesting himself of his native ferocity, and acquiring the arts of happiness and peace; to trace the steps by which he leaves his precarious meal, acquired by the chase, for a more certain but a more laboridus repast, acquired first by pasturage, then by cultivation.
After the Conquest, the rude outlines of our present constitution began to be formed. Before the Norman invasion, there might be some customs resembling those at present in practice; but the only reason of their continuance was, because they had before been practised in common among the invaders. At this period, therefore, an Englishman becomes interested in the narrative; he perceives the rise and the reasons of several laws which now serve to restrain his conduct or preserve his property. The rights of our monarchs, the claims of foreign potentates, the ineffectual struggles for liberty, and the gradual encroachments of ambition, these highly interest him, as he in some measure owes to these transactions the happiness he enjoys.
But the last period is what is chiefly incumbent upon almost erery man to be particularly conversant in. Every person residing here, has a share in the liberties of this kingdom; as the generality of the people are ultimately invested with the legislation. It is, therefore, every man's duty to know that constitution, which, by his birthright, he is called to govern; a freeholder, in a free kingdom, should certainly be instructed in the original of that agreement by which he holds so precious a tenure.
These motives equally influence almost every rank of people; but how much more forcibly should they operate upon you, whose honors, whose trusts and possessions, are likely to be so considerable. Others may have their liberties to support; you must sustain your liberty, your property, and the dignity of your station. I shall therefore, without further preface, in some future correspondence, communicate the result of my inquiries on this subject; a subject which, I own, has employed all the leisure I had to spare from, I will not say more important, but more necessary duties. I shall endeavor, at once, to supply the facts, and the necessary consequences that
be deduced from them. I shall separate all that can contribute nothing either to amusement or use, and
leave such to dull compilers or systematic writers of history, whose only boast is, to leave rothing out. A more thorough knowledge of the subject cannot be communicated without pain, nor acquired without study; perhaps too minute a skill in this, or any one subject, might disqualify the mind for other branches of science, equally demanding our care. Of whatever use it may be, I hope you will consider it as an instance of my regard, though it should fail to add to your opinion of my sagacity.
A COLLECTION OF POEMS FOR YOUNG LADIES, IN THREE PARTS; DE
VOTIONAL, MORAL, AND ENTERTAINING: THE WHOLE BEING A
COLLECTION OF THE BEST PIECES IN OUR LANGUAGE.
Dr. FORDYCE's excellent Sermons for Young Women, in some measure gave rise to the following compilation. In that work, where he so judiciously points out all the defects of female con. duct, to remedy them, and all the proper studies which they should pursue, with a view to improvement, poetry is one to which he particularly would attach them. He only objects to the danger of pursuing this charming study through all the immoralities and false pictures of happiness with which it abounds, and thus bocoming the martyr of innocent curiosity.
In the following compilation, care has been taken to select, not only such pieces as innocence may read without a blush, but such as will even tend to strengthen that innocence. In this little work, a lady may find the most exquisite pleasure, while she is at the same time learning the duties of life; and, while she
* (Goldsmith's name was withheld from this Collection at the period of its publication, in 1776, but was added in a subsequent edition. See Life, ch. xvi.)
courts only entertainment, be deceived into wisdom. Indeed, this would be too great a boast in the preface to any original work; but here it can be made with safety, as every poem in the following collection would singly have procured an author great reputation.
They are divided into Devotional, Moral, and Entertaining, thus comprehending the three great duties of life; that which we owe to God, to our neighbor, and to ourselves.
In the first part, it must be confessed, our English poets have not very much excelled. In that department, namely, the praise of our Maker, by which poetry began, and from which it deviated by time, we are most faultily deficient. There are one or two, however, particularly " the Deity,” by Mr. Boyse; a poem which, when it first came out, lay for some time neglected, till introduced to public notice by Mr. Hervey and Mr. Fielding. In it the reader will perceive many striking pictures, and perhaps glow with a part of that gratitude which seems to have inspired the writer.
In the moral part I am more copious, from the same reason, because our language contains a large number of the kind. Voltaire, talking of our poets, gives them the preference in moral pieces to those of any other nation; and indeed no poets have better settled the bounds of duty, or more precisely determined the rules for conduct in life than ours. In this department, the fair reader will find the Muse has been solicitous to guide her, not with the allurements of a siren, but the integrity of a friend.
In the entertaining part, my greatest difficulty was what to reject. The materials lay in such plenty, that I was bewildered in my choice: in this case, then, I was solely determined by the tendency of the poem; and where I found one, however well executed, that seemed in the least tending to distort the judgment, or infilame the imagination, it was excluded without mercy. I have here and there, indeed, when one of particular beauty offered with a few blemishes, lopt off the defects; and thus, like the tyrant who fitted all strangers to the bed he had prepared for them, I have inserted some by first adapting them to my plan. We only differ in this, that he mutilated with a bad design, I from motives of a contrary nature.
It will be easier to condemn a compilation of this kind, than to prove its inutility. While young ladies are readers, and while their guardians are solicitous that they shall only read the best books, there can be no danger of a work of this kind being disagreeable. It offers, in a very small compass, the very flowers of our poetry, and that of a kind adapted to the sex supposed to be its readers. Poetry is an art which no young lady can, or ought to be, wholly ignorant of. The pleasure which it gives, and indeed the necessity of knowing enough of it to mix in modern conversation, will evince the usefulness of my design, which is to supply the highest and the most innocent entertainment at the smallest expense; as the poems in this collection, if sold singly, would amount to ten times the price of what I am able to afford the present.