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Les Italiens fûrent les premiers qui élevèrent de grands théâtres, et qui donnèrent au monde quelque idée de cette splendeur de l'ancienne Grèce, qui attirait les nations étrangères à ses solemnités, et qui fut le modèle des peuples en tous les genres. VOLTAIRE.
It cannot excite wonder, that the « tablet starting” into existence, and notes that "lift the soul on seraph wings," should tempt an ardent admirer of the elegant arts to enter the bowers of Wimbledon. Let me, however, Madam, entreat your pardon for this intrusion; and, while I bend at the shrine of wit and beauty, permit me to lay this humble offering at your feet.
M DCC XC VIII.
EARLY enamoured of the literature of Italy, it was, during many years, my solace amidst the corrosive cares of life. An opportunity of vifiting the classic shores of that enchanting clime occurring, I availed myself of it, and returned a more enthusiastic admirer, if possible, of the effusions of the Italian muse. Soon after my arrival in my native country, ill-health obliged me to retire from "the busy hum of men," and I funk into rural seclusion in a verdant valley, watered by a winding river, at the foot of a range of lofty mountains. Here I fummoned around me the swans of the Po and the Arno, and, while I listened to their mellifluous strains, time passed me with an inaudible step. But though I no longer sighed after the society which I had abandoned, I felt an ardent desire to increase its stock of harmless pleasures. With this view the present work was undertaken. Discovering in Italian tragedy, a rich mine of intellectual wealth, hitherto almost totally unexplored by my countrymen, I determined, however ill-qualified I might be, to endeavour to direct their notice to this literary treasure. If they should not find me an intelligent guide, they will, I trust, have no reason to accuse me of intentionally leading them astray. In taste and judgment I may often fail; but in truth of representation I flatter myself I shall be generally found scrupulously correct. Fortunate in my researches, my collection of Italian tragedies is not inconfiderable;
and, following the advice of Prior, I invariably made it a point to read before I wrote. I do not, however, pretend to have read, or to be in possession of all the dramas which I enumerate (though there are, indeed, few of them which I do not possess, and have not inspected); but as I was in no haste to appear before the tribunal of the public, I not only carefully consulted, but freely laid under contribution, all the best bibliothecal authorities and most impartial dramatic critics, within my reach. This occafioned fuch a copious flow of matter, that had I not firmly refolved to adhere to my original idea of giving only a slight memoir, I should, perhaps, have deemed it necessary to apologise for the bulk of my volume.
The first plan of this work was circumfcribed within the humble limits of a Catalogue raisonné. But a little reflection taught me to believe, that the dry, insipid nature of a catalogue would rather deter, than invite readers. This induced me to extend my purposed bounds, and, by the introduction of biographical notices of dramatic writers, to give a flexibility to my outline, which would enable me to embrace such objects of taste and curiosity as might occur in my progress through the extenfive fields of Italian literature. Indeed, the title which my work now assumes, seems to warrant this departure from my original plan. "Quand on écrit des mémoires," says the Abbè de Sade, "on a les coudées plus franches; on peut faire de petites excursions, appuyer sur quelques détails, saisir certains objets qui paroissent étrangers, et qui n'entreroient pas dans une histoire faite avec soin."
My first object was certainly the Italian reader; but I trust that the mere English reader will find I have not been totally regardless of his amusement or information. Had I been more prodigal of translation, his disappointment would, perhaps, have been less frequent; but I am not certain that his pleasure would have been proportionably increased, as all the specimens most necessary for illustration, or richest in poctic beauties, are translated, and, though Italian quotations fre