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HE present Work does not assume to be exhaustive, for that would
have scarcely been the case, perhaps, had the labours of two or three lives been devoted to it.
But it does assume to be a very important advance upon every previous undertaking of the kind.
It has been produced, it may be said, quite irrespectively of the time, toil, and even pecuniary outlay which it has entailed; and, whatever faults it may exhibit ought to be criticised, therefore, with a certain share of tenderness and forbearance. Bibliography is essentially a Progressive Science.
It was my desire to have refrained from any observations which might seem to impugn the value of former publications, or to exaggerate the value of this one. But I apprehend that readers, as a rule, are rather apt to misunderstand the character, aim, and special usefulness of any new claimant to their patronage, unless the facts of the case are pretty broadly stated ; and the twofold consideration of the very arduous labour expended on these pages, and of the very slight probability that this labour will ever be at all adequately recompensed, appeared to me to deprive of some portion of its egotism an explanation purely intended to place the book before the public in its true light
-as one which renders some substantial service to Early English Literature, without doing all that might be possible, or even all that I could wish.
It will be expected that I should introduce some account of preceding works of reference and books of an analogous description already existing in our language.
These are, then (enumerating at random) Ames, Herbert, and Dibdin; Lowndes; Blades; the Bibliotheca Grenvilliana; the Bibliotheca Heberiana; Ritson's Bibliographia; Collier's Bibliographical Catalogue; the Rev. T. Corser's Collectanea Anglo-Poetica; and, lastly, the Catalogue of the Society of Antiquaries' Broadsides, &c., just completed.
These are books of very unequal value and weight, and they are so for different reasons.
Ames wrote at a time when information on these subjects was so very imperfect that his original draft of the Typographical Antiquities is hardly worth consulting. He was a very painstaking man, and, so far as his opportunities allowed, did justice to his book and to the public. For many years Ames was the sole authority upon our typographical antiquities, and this circumstance can only be explained by assuming that the interest felt in those antiquities was rather a languid one.
Herbert cannot, on the whole, be too highly commended. If he had had a successor worthy of him, an admirable work might have been the result; but in Dibdin we find a man of very inferior calibre. Dibdin added to Herbert, and, so to speak, reprinted him; but this reproduction is not only imperfect (for which the Editor was probably not answerable), but it abounds with the silliest blunders and most inexcusable negligences. As a Picture-Book, it will always hold its position.
Lowndes went further than Herbert and his follower, and gives us a good deal which was unknown to both of these gentlemen, and a good deal, of course, which did not fall within their scopes. To the bibliographer and collector of 1834, the Bibliographer's Manual was a valuable present. In thirty years it has become an anachronism.
I shall do no more than allude to a recent reprint of Lowndes, for the less that is said about it the better. Everybody who cares about such matters must be familiar with its character, and it would be invidious for me to enlarge here. It may have been a well-meant scheme.
The work of Mr. Blades would not be enhanced in worth by any criticism of mine ; it is one of those too scarce publications which do honour to all parties concerned. For a description of such Caxtons as I have had occasion to introduce here, I am exclusively indebted to Mr. Blades. Dibdin is no authority on this or any other point.
The Bibliotheca Heberiana and Grenvilliana have been of service, especially the latter. The weakness of the book seems to be that it overstates the value of the articles occasionally, and in some of those cases, where detection is most difficult, is guilty of serious misprints or errors.
Ritson’s Bibliographia Poetica, 1802, was an important work of reference at the time when it appeared, and continued to be so long after. There are many who quote it even now. But its sins of omission and commission are very numerous and grave indeed. There is so much to be said, however, in Ritson's favour, that, where he had the opportunity, he never failed to inspect a volume for himself, and in such case described it with praiseworthy exactitude.
The great interest and value of Mr. Collier's Bibliographical Catalogue, 1865, and Mr. Corser's Collectanea Anglo-Poetica (A and B only) consist in the circumstance that the accounts of works are derived from a personal examina