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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.
Dryden's remarks on Rymer have been somewhere printed before. The former edition I have not seen. This was transcribed for the press from his own manuscript.
As this undertaking was occasional and unforseen, 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 inquiry, 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 other friends; and great assistance has been given me by mr. Spence's Collections, of which I consider the communication as a favour worthy of public acknowledgment.*
• They were communicated by their possessor, the duke of Newcastle.
CONTENTS OF THE FIRST VOLUME.