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To those who thoroughly comprehend the importance and high tendency of LITERATURE, when not perverted from the original intention of its nature, an elaborate exposition of the advantages likely to accrue to the public from a revival of the best Works of our best Authors, will be altogether unnecessary. They already know that, in every art and science, those who would not rest content with a cramped mechanical knowledge, meted out to them by the peculiar measures in vogue among their Contemporaries, must turn constantly back, to consider what were the ideas and practices of Former Ages, in order to enlarge and improve their own. And this is more particularly requisite in LITERATURE—where none but those who have made themselves acquainted with the MASTERPIECES of past times, can ever hope to add to their number.
But this obvious truth, which it is so easy to acknowledge, is seldom converted into a principle of action. The productions of our Own Age,-yielding, indeed, in many cases, to those of no preceding period,—are too frequently allowed to engross us wholly; and thus is created a taste childishly fastidious, which, without examination, rejects as unpalatable the more solid, plentiful, and invigorating intellectual food of our Forefathers. Many laudable attempts have certainly already been made, and are still making, to correct the injurious tendency of this habit: the works of some of our greatest Writers have been reprinted, sometimes nakedly, at others accompanied by Prefaces or Introductions, intended to pave the way to a renewed intercourse between our Literary Ancestors and the Public.
Perhaps, however, no single work, detached from the body of our Older Literature, and separately published, could ever hope to secure the degree of attention to which it might, by its intrinsic importance, be entitled. Like a foreigner, moving solitarily through a vast and busy crowd, it would probably be quickly eclipsed and lost to the eye amid the multitudinous throng. To produce any very striking effect, therefore, the books of past ages must be revived, so to say, in masses, and be made to support each other, like the several parts of a phalanx, in reconquering that popularity which is their just inheritance : for appearing thus, they can by no possibility be overlooked. And such is the merit of those Authors whose principal Works will compose the present Series—such the force of their reasoningthe vast reach and compass of their thoughts—the riches of their illustration--and the splendour, in many cases, of their style, that those who once discover their various excellences are
On this account, independently of all other considerations, we have thought it desirable to publish seriatim a collection of the PROSE MASTERPIECES of our LITERATURE, uniform in appearance, size, embellishments, and price-to be issued at regular intervals. And because, in most instances, we find among an Author's Works some particular Treatise or Treatises, which, treating of topics agreeable to his taste, or containing, as in the case of Milton, some burst of self-love, or the defence or exposition of doctrines exactly suiting the temper of his mind, are therefore more completely impregnated with the seeds of his genius, and the quintessence of his most exquisite learning, we have considered it more expedient to make a selection of such pieces, than to reprint all he may have written ; for even those who possess the happiest and most fertile intellects, are not equally happy and fertile at all times.
But it has often been said that a man's own personal appearance and manners are his best letters of recommendation :-and
so it fares with books. To be received into good society they
The labours of the Editor may be very briefly explained.
necessary, expanding the Author's meaning,
Classics,-facilitate, as much as possible, the business of re-
Thus illustrated and introduced, it is hoped that the sterling