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In this book-making age, various are the causes which have induced men to become authors. With some, chill Penury has been the only stimulus; with others, Ambition, that spur to great and noble deeds as well as vices, has been the chief excitant. Some have been influenced by true Benevolence, and a sincere wish to ameliorate the condition of mankind; while others have written to gratify rapacious Avarice or fell Revenge. Science, with its occult truths, and the wonderful and gratifying disclosures it makes to its followers, has produced many authors; and another and quite numerous class has been generated by pure Ennui—an intolerable weariness at having nothing to do.
None of these potent causes has exercised much influence in the conception and execution of this Work: it may be said to have been the result of mere accident an agent not less observable in many of the actions of men than those above enumerated. The task of making the following collection was commenced four or five years ago, but without any view to publication; and it was not until the pages had accumulated so as to assume somewhat of a booklike appearance, that the resolution to print them was adopted: a resolution which has been considerably influenced and encouraged by the consideration, that there is a necessity and a demand for such a book at this time.
To the editor, the author, and the public speaker, it is believed that a great convenience will hereby be afforded; for nothing adorns a composition or a speech more than appropriate quotations — endorsing, as it were, our own sentiments with the sanction of other minds-unless the habit of quoting is too often indulged, when it degenerates into pedantry, and becomes unpleasing. It is hoped, too, that the general reader, at least every lover of Poetry, will here find much to instruct and amuse. And who, that has feeling, is not a lover of Poetry? Who can listen to "the dear, dear witchery of song," nor feel that it is the very language of Nature herself? Coming as it does from the heart, it appeals directly to the hearts of others, and seems to take the fancy and the feelings captive unawares. So universal is its influence, and so comprehensive its scope, that there is scarcely a theme within the range of the imagination, from the sublime conceptions of Milton and Dante to the ridiculous and common-place subjects of Butler's verse, which may not be appropriately sung "in liquid lines mellifluously bland."
It will be perceived that a great number of authors are here quoted. Extensive libraries, not accessible to the great mass of readers, have been ransacked, and many volumes have been read simply for the purpose of plucking some of their sweet flowers from the native wildwood in which we find them surrounded and almost obscured by weeds and thistles, and transplanting them to bloom in this little parterre. The Extracts, with few exceptions, have been arranged in chronological order, extending from the days of the earliest English poets to the present time, and embracing many passages from the poetry of America.
Perhaps an apology is due from the author for having inserted some of his own effusions in this collection. In some instances, pieces have been composed by him to illustrate a subject in a manner different from those that preceded them; in others, they have been inserted simply to fill a vacant corner; and in others, because they were already written, and it was thought they would at least do no injury, and might possibly serve to render more apparent the beauty of others, by contrast, as the brightest stars in the firmament seem more brilliant when compared with the small twinklers that surround them. Another motive for this temerity, and this is not the least just, if not the most satisfactory, of those that might be urged,—may perhaps be traced to that ubiquitous principle, vanitas scriptorum, and to its offspring, which Byron exhibited to his Reviewers, when he wrote in extenuation of his offence
"Tis pleasant, sure, to see one's name in print ;
A book's a book, although there's nothing in 't."
To the compilation and classification of the following Extracts much time and labor have been devoted. Still the critical reader will doubtless find many imperfections, both in the plan and execution of the work, which can scarcely be excused by the fact of its having been prepared for the press amidst the continuous and exacting calls of professional studies. But, tedious and even perplexing as the task has often been in its details, on the whole it has proved a labor of love, to collect into one casket what were "like orient pearls at random strung ;" and, such as the book is, the compiler would fain present it to its readers as a variegated bouquet, culled from the many gardens that diversify and adorn the extensive fields of English and American Poetry.