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DURING my whole life, now rapidly approaching fourscore, I have been a diligent reader, and, as far as my means would allow, a greedy purchaser of all works connected with early English literature. It is nearly sixty years since I became possessed of my first really valuable old book of this kind-Wilson's "Art of Logic," printed by Richard Grafton in 1551-from which I ascertained the not unimportant facts that "Ralph Roister Doister" was an older play than "Gammer Gurton's Needle," and that it had been written by Nicholas Udall, Master of Eton School: I thus learned who was the author of the earliest comedy, properly so called, in our language. This was my first literary discovery, made several years anterior, although I had not occasion to render it public, until I printed my Notes. upon "Dodsley's Old Plays" soon after 1820. My latest discovery, which occurred only a few months ago, is that "Tottel's Miscellany," 1557, the oldest and most interesting in our language, containing as it does the poems of the Earl of Surrey, Sir Thomas Wyat, and their contemporaries, has always, during the last three centuries, been reprinted, by Dr. Sewell, Bishop Percy, Dr. Nott, and their followers, from the second instead of the first edition: the differences between the two are not merely extremely curious, but very interesting and important.

Between the one discovery and the other there was an interval of perhaps fifty years; and whatever may appear to be new in the ensuing volumes has been the result of


literary investigation during considerably more than that period. My early employments were irksome and wearisome; but, stimulated in some degree by my first success, and by my love for the best poetry the world has produced, I lightened my labours by the collection and perusal of old English books, and by making extracts from and criticisms upon them, whether in prose or verse; so that in time. they formed a large body of manuscripts, consisting of separate articles alphabetically arranged.

The work in the hands of the reader has been mainly derived from this source, and not a few of the notices are of forty, or even fifty, years standing. Although I kept constantly adding to, altering and correcting them, both as to facts and opinions, some of them are, in the most material points, just as they came from my pen, soon after the perusal of the books to which they relate. It will be found that a few are reviews of productions altogether unknown to bibliographers, while others apply to publications of which only a single copy remains to us, or to separate tracts of the utmost rarity.

It is true that notices of a very few more common, but still scarce, books will be found interspersed, a circumstance arising from the fact, that I have incorporated all the productions formerly embraced in what is generally known as the "Bridgewater Catalogue," which about thirty years ago I prepared for the first Earl of Ellesmere, and which was privately printed at the expense of that gifted, enlightened and liberal nobleman. Through my hands in 1837 he dispersed, as presents, in different quarters of the globe the fifty copies of which the whole impression consisted; but, some years after the completion of the undertaking, his Lordship expressed his regret, that the limitation in point of number much restricted the utility of that Catalogue: he therefore authorised me at any time to

reprint it, if I thought it would answer as a pecuniary speculation. During Lord Ellesmere's life I never availed myself of this permission; but a proposal of the kind was made to me not long after his demise. I did not then listen to it, because I was still anxious to introduce corrections upon many of the pages; and because, even then, I contemplated a work upon a broader basis, and of a wider range, not limited to the contents of any single library, whether public or private.

It may be stated, nevertheless, that in the course of my two volumes, I have reprinted the whole of the "Bridgewater Catalogue:" I refused to mutilate it by the omission of any article, however comparatively insignificant; but I have, at the same time, carefully inserted whatever information I subsequently procured, and the consequence is that there is no one piece of criticism, derived from the "Bridgewater Catalogue," that has not received improvements more or less important. Had I not been desirous of giving that work in its entirety, I might have discarded accounts of a few books of more ordinary occurrence, but which the autographs of the writers, in dedications or otherwise, had rendered of peculiar interest and value in the Ellesmere Library.

Before that memorable assemblage of books came into the possession of Lord Francis Egerton (afterwards the first Earl of Ellesmere) some highly important works had been turned out of it, in many instances under the mistaken impression that they were duplicates. These supposed duplicates, generally marked by John Earl of Bridgewater (who died in 1649) in a somewhat peculiar manner, were to be found on the shelves of several booksellers, or in private hands, and two or three occurred in sale-lists not long after the preparation of the "Bridgewater Catalogue." One of these may be specified as the finest copy of the Sonnets of Shakespeare

(4to. 1609) that has ever been seen, and I had the satisfaction of re-purchasing it for Lord Ellesmere. Having also a noble collection of Old Plays (though much impaired when imaginary duplicates were incautiously extruded), his Lordship was at all times anxious to restore them to their ancient places at any price, and he commissioned me to secure such relics for him. He besides applied a considerable sum every year to the formation of a separate library, especially devoted to the illustration of Shakespeare and our early Stage. This most agreeable duty Lord Ellesmere assigned to me; and had not the Commission on the British Museum intervened (on which I felt, most reluctantly, bound to take an independent course, in favour of a compendious catalogue which would enable readers instantly to find the book wanted, without wading through a labyrinth of tediously extended titles) this design might have advanced considerably farther towards completion. The difficulty was to procure the books, so rare and costly had the best of them become, but Lord Ellesmere did not hesitate to purchase any work I recommended. There never, perhaps, existed a more confiding or bountiful patron; and, after an intercourse of more than thirty years, I may venture to say, with affectionate humility, that the only fault of his character was having too high an estimate of those who were interested in misguiding him, and too little reliance upon his own unswayed convictions.

It is now above sixty years since I first obtained a ticket for the Reading Room of the British Museum, and my own notions, as to the easy possibility of procuring a short and useful Catalogue of the books, have never undergone the slightest change: this is probably the last preface I shall ever be able to compose, and I therefore add, that if the Lord Ellesmere of 1847 and 1848 had only been as firm as, in my opinion, he was originally right, we might possibly (I only

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