Vicesimus Knox, Elegant Extracts: or, useful and entertaining Pieces of Poetry, Selected for the Improvement of Young Persons: being similar in Design to Elegant Extracts in Prose. 2 Volumes (London: C. Robinson; Weybridge: S. Hamilton, 1809)
Information about the collection: The engraving on the title page is of 3 boys at leisure beside a brook, with 3 workers in the fields in the background on the left; all of the youths are reading and the caption is from Gray: "Their's is the Sunshine of the Breast." First published in 1801; this edition is 1809.
From the Preface: Since Poetry affords young persons an innocent pleasure, a taste for it, under certain limitations, should be indulged. Why should they be forbidden to expatiate, in imagination, over the flowery fields of Arcadia, in Elysium, in the Isles of the Blest, and in the Vale of Tempe? The harmless delight which they derive from Poetry, is surely sufficient to recommend an attention to it, at an age when pleasure is the chief pursuit, even if the sweets of it were not blended with utility.
If indeed pleasure were the ultimate object of Poetry, there are some who, in the rigor of austere wisdom, would maintain that the precious days of youth might be more advantageously employed than in cultivating a taste for it. To obviate their objections, it is necessary to remind them, that Poetry has ever claimed the power of conveying instruction, in the most effectual manner, by the vehicle of pleasure.
There is reason to believe that many young persons of natural genius would have given very little attention to learning of any kind, if they had been introduced to it by books appealing only to their reason and judgment, and not to their fancy. Through the pleasant paths of Poetry they have been gradually led to the heights of science: they have been allured, on first setting out, by the beauty of the scene presented to them, into a delightful land, flowing with milk and honey; where, after having been nourished like the infant at the mother's breast, they have gradually acquired strength enough to relish and digest the solidest food of philosophy.
This opinion seems to be confirmed by actual experience; for the greatest men, in every liberal and honorable profession, gave their early years to the charms of Poetry. Many of the most illustrious worthies in the church and in the state were allured to the land of learning by the song of the Muse; and they would perhaps have never entered it, if their preceptors had forbidden them to lend an ear. Of so mcuh consequence is the study of Poetry in youth to the general advancement of learning.
And as to morals, "Poetry," in the words of Sir Philip Sydney, "doth not only show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect of the way, as will entice any many to enter into it" .... Thus Poetry, by the gentle, yet certain method of allurement, leads both to learning and to virtue. I conclude, therefore, that under a few self-evident restrictions, it is properly addressed to all young minds, in the course of a liberal education. ...
With respect to this Compilation, the principal subject of this Preface (but from which I have been seduced into a digression, by giving my suffrage in favor of the art I love) -- if I should be asked what are it's pretensions, I must freely answer that it professes nothing more than (what is evident at first sight) to be a larger Collection of English Verse, For The Use of Schools, than has ever yet been published in one volume. The original intention was to comprise in it a great number and variety of such pieces as were already in use in schools, or which seemed proper for the use of them; such a number and variety as might furnish something satisfactory to every taste, and serve as a little Poetical Library for school-boys, precluding the inconvenience and expence of a multitude of volumes.
Such was the design of the Publication. The Editor can claim no praise beyond that of the design. The praise of ingenuity is all due to the Poets whose works have supplied the materials. What merit can there be in directing a famous and popular passage to be inserted from Shakspeare, Milton, Pope, Gray, and many others of less fame, indeed, but in great esteem, and all of allowed genius? Their own lustre pointed them out, like stars of the first magnitude in the heavens. There was no occasion for singular acuteness of vision, or for optical glasses, to discover a brightness which obtruded itself on the eye. The best pieces are usually the most popular. They are loudly recommended by the voice of Fame; and her eulogy, when long continued, becomes an infallible guidance.
Utility and innocent entertainment are the sole designs of the Editor; and if they are accomplished, he is satisfied, and cheerfully falls back into the shade of obscurity. He is confident that the Book cannot but be useful and entertaining; but he is at the same time so little inclined to boast of his work, that he is ready to confess, that almost any man willing to incur a considerable expence, and undergo a little trouble, might have furnished as good a collection.
As taste will for ever differ, some may wish to have seen in it passages from some favorite, yet obscure poet, and some also from their own works; but it was the business of the Editor of a school-book like this, not to insert scarce and curious works, such as please virtuoso readers, chiefly from their rarity, but to collect such as were publicly known and universally celebrated. The more known, the more celebrated, the better they were adapted to this Collection; which is not designed, like the lessons of some dancing-masters, for grown gentlemen, but for young learners only; and it will readily occur to every one, that what is old to men and women, may be, and for the most part must be, New to boys and girls receiving their education. Private judgement, in a work like this, must often give way to public. Some things are inserted in this Volume, entirely in submissive deference to public opinion; which, when general and long continued, is the best criterion of merit in the find arts, and particularly in Poetry. Whatever was found in previous collections, which experience had pronounced proper for schools, has been freely taken and admitted: the stamp of experience gave it currency. The freedom of borrowing, it is hoped, will be pardoned, as the collectors, with whom it has been used, first set the example of it.
It is unnecessary, and perhaps might be deemed impertinent, to point out the mode of using the Collection to the best advantage. It is evident that it may be used in schools either in recitation, transcription, the exercise of the memory, or in imitation. It furnishes an abundance of models, which are the best means of exciting genius. Such Arts of Poetry as those of Gildour, Bysshe, Newbery, and their imitators, effect but little in the dry method of technical precept; and the young Poet, like the Sculptor, will improve most by working after a model. It is evident that this Collection may be usefully read at English Schools, in the classes, just as the Latin and Greek authors are read at the grammar-schools by explaining every thing grammatically, historically, metrically, and critically, and then giving a portion to be learned by memory. The Book, it is hoped, will be particularly agreeable and useful in the private studies of the amiable young student, whose first love is the love of the Muse, and who courts her in his summer's walk, and in the solitude of his winter retreat, or at the social domestic fire-side....
The reader will have no cause to complain, if instead of Extracts, he often finds poems inserted entire. This has been done whenever it seemed consistent with the design, and could be done without injustice. In this matter, the opinion of those who must be supposed best qualified to give it, was asked and followed. The wish was to take nothing but what seemed to nie on the common, relinquished or neglected by the lord of the manor....
Table of Contents: Forthcoming for both volumes