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The volume contains nothing, that is not known to be Mr. Paine's, by evidences stronger, if that were necessary, than even the characteristicks of his peculiar and unborrowed manner; except only the verses of an accomplished lady, whom it is easy to commend to her full deserts, without forcing her into a thankless and unwarrantable comparison with that Lesbian enchantress, whose lyre subdues the listener to a deaf and dizzy delight, not unlike that, which she herself experienced when gazing on her favourite :
'οππάτεσσιν δ' δεν δημι: βομβευ
σιν δ' ακραί Foι. Beside these two, other causes of obstruction have not failed to operate. Every one, who has undertaken to publish an Author's remains, will acknowledge, that to such an undertaking there are incident many obstacles, which, before he ventured on the task, he could hardly have imagined possible; to such persons enough has been said; and those, who do not care to become editors, would fcel little gratitude for a recapitulation of the discouragements, under which this collection has gradually grown and spread to its present size and form.
At length the work is abroad; and it is not without anxiety, that Mr. Paine's friends await the decision of the publick. The author is, indeed, removed beyond the reach of censure; and the voice of praise, however chaste and sincere, if not lost in the bustle of the world, will sigh only in a faint and barren echo through the chambers of death. This volume, warmly and cordially welcomed, will do much to soothe an afficted family. A proud neglect or a sullen rejection may embitter the cup of sorrow with the tears of honest and indignant pride.
Although the work consists, for the most part, of occasional performances, yet with local and temporary topicks Mr. Paine has not unfrequently connected subjects of general and permanent interest. From his Prize Prologue, may be learnt the progress of the scenick art; and one can hardly open the Ruling Passion without encountering something, that may enlarge his knowledge, or clevate his virtue, or ennoble his patriotism. The Monody on Sir John Moore, though the fate and character of that gallant officer might furnish materials
for a more elaborate panegyrick, is not destitute of moral instruction; and many of his festal songs are of such an impress, as to shew that Mr. Paine was not always content to filter off his political opinions from the common sewers, but could, if he thought himself bound to such exertion, ascend to the living springs of truth and right.
Although the Prize Prologue will at once shew itself to be considerably improved, yet that poem, even as now printed, did not satisfy him, and Mr. Paine was resolved on further improvements. He had sketched with great boldness and felicity, the characters of the principal writers for the English stage. Of these characters, when to each he had assigned his proper features, and imparted to all something of that enthusiasm, which the mere thought of Shakespeare and his successors was seen to kindle in his own bosom, he had determined to form a gallery of portraits. It is to be lamented, that this determination was forgotten almost as soon as made. Some additions are interwoven with the Invention of Letters; and similar emendations were projected for many of his other poems. But his latter years were dark and cheerless; and he seems never to have summoned his powers to an attempt, which he was not unwilling to contemplate, as feasible only to a sound and active health.
These remarks are not designed to propitiate the stern or interest the tender. Neither is it intended by what may follow, to defy the austerity of criticism, or to interdict to any bosom the indulgence of a generous sympathy.
The book, such as it is, is now open on its merits to discussion; and, while it is not ambitious of a place in the reviews, it does not shrink from a strict and impartial scrutiny. Like other posthumous works, it will undoubtedly betray many venial, and a few almost inexpiable faults. It will also present no scanty measure of beauties, some of the softest grace, and others of the brightest bloom. The same page that is here tarnished with blemishes, which the slightest attention may seem sufficient to have prevented, may there sparkle with decorations, such as the happiest fancy in its most propitious moments can hardly hope to surpass.
The notes, promised in the proposals, it was originally intended to throw into the margin; but this intention being resigned, the Editor's labours will be found at the end of the volume. From assigning, as at first proposed, so much of the whole commentary to each production, as its worth, whether admitted or assumed, might have claimed, the Editor soon found it necessary to desist. Had he continued the notes, as begun, his pages might have out-numbered the author's. Many pieces are, accordingly, dispatched in a single sentence; and some are silently dismissed, not because they do not sometimes require, and might not always admit explanation, but lest productions of higher dignity or deeper interest, might be defrauded of their proportion of the commentary.
Meagre as the notes are, they would have been still more meagre, had not a liberal and elegant friendship suggested many grounds of comparison and sources of illustration. Thus assisted, however, and enabled, beside his own slender stock of learning, to command the resources of a rich and vigorous mind, the Editor does not presume to think, that his labours will afford any light to the only persons, who will probably ever inspect the commentary, to the lovers of sound literature and the patrons of genuine criticism.
Lest he should be accused of permitting errors, which he had no means of excluding, to obtrude themselves; or applauded for accuracy and excellence, from which, as he contributed nothing to their production, he is not entitled to any portion of praise, it becomes the Editor to declare, that he holds himself responsible for the text only, and the notes subjoined to the text.