The British Muse, or, a Collection of Thoughts moral, natural, and sublime, of our English Poets: who flourished in the sixteenth and seventeenth Centuries. With several curious Topicks, and beautiful Passages, never before extracted, from Shakespear, Johnson, Beaumont, Fletcher, and above a hundred more. The whole digested alphabetically under the respective Heads, according to the Order of Time in which they wrote; to shew the gradual Improvements of our Poetry and Language. In three Volumes … With a historical and critical Review of this, and all the Collections of this kind hitherto published.

London, Printed for F. Cogan … and J. Nourse … 1738.

3 vols., 12mo., pp. xxiv, 288; [22], 312; [2], 312; title-pages in red and black; a very good copy in contemporary speckled calf, rebacked, spines gilt in compartments; ownership inscriptions of Herbert Fitzherbert and one other, cropped at time of binding.


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First edition of this interesting antiquarian miscellany of literary extracts. The subjects, arranged alphabetically, range from ‘Abbeys’ to ‘Youth’ via ‘Abstinence’, ‘Hypocrite’ ‘Mediocrity’ ‘Rebellion’ ‘Self-Murder’, and ‘Travel’. The authors quoted include Beaumont, Chapman, Davenant, Jonson, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Shirley and Webster and their contributions are arranged chronologically in order that the ‘gradual improvements’ might be seen.

The dedication to Mary Wortley Montagu, preface, and biographical notices on scarce authors are provided by William Oldys and, although he complained that his publisher had employed Dr. John Campbell to cut his preface before sending it to press, the review by him of earlier poetical miscellanies, beginning with the Mirror for Magistrates (1559), is likely the first of its kind. The compilation was esteemed by Thomas Warton who described it as the best he knew, and a few of the works quoted by Hayward are now lost, and survive only in Hayward’s quotations (Oxford DNB).

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