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HAVING as little inclination to write a long preface as the public could possibly have to read one, I shall content myself with stating briefly why, in the compilation of this volume, I have been induced to add one to the numerous publications of a similar nature already in existence. These, notwithstanding the talents and taste impressed into their service, and although they contain no small variety of what is interesting or amusing in subject, and excellent in composition, are nevertheless burthened 'with much of what is inferior in both respects, with pieces at best but of equivocal merit, and entirely confined to what Mr. M'Diarmid in his excellent" SCRAP BOOK" terms " the floating literature of the day,"-frequently showy in words, but barren in the primary attribute of eloquence-IDEAS! and like an effervescing draught, becoming stale, and palling upon the appetite, almost as soon as tasted.
iFinding this opinion corroborated by that of other individuals far more competent than myself, I have, in proceeding upon a different, I would fain hope a more discriminat ing principle of compilation, endeavoured to supply what may perhaps be considered a desideratum among works of this kind; and without confining myself to the literature of
either the past or the present age, have attempted to form a volume such as is implied in the title-namely, of pieces not generally known, yet characterised by traits of wit or humour, or distinguished by some display of the loftier energies of thought, or by splendid and powerful dictionsuch as may arrest attention upon a first perusal, and may be read a second time without any unequivocal symptom of weariness. It has also been my study to exclude mediocre, as well as other pieces which, however brilliant or striking, have now become hacknied by frequent quotation, and are consequently familiar to every description of readers.
Such is the plan which has been followed in the collection of these "Gems;" and it now remains with the public to decide how far it is either proper in itself, or carried into effect with becoming judgment and taste. Some readers may indeed be disposed to think the design infringed on when they find in this volume a few extracts from Cowper and Byron, and even two from Shakspeare. There is, I freely admit, some difficulty in abstaining from levying contributions on authors, every page of whose works abounds with the sterling bullion of genius; but in compensation for the few pieces of theirs admitted, others of still more imposing claims are withheld, and for no better reason than that of their having become "familiar in our mouths as household words."..
Perhaps a more minute classification in the table of contents might have proved acceptable; but its various references being sent to the printer in nearly the same order in which the selection was made, the reader who finds time and inclination to proceed onwards, will realize the truth of the motto affixed to the title-page.
EDINBURGH, 2d January 1826.
MISCELLANEOUS PIECES, CONTROVERSIAL, HUMOROUS,
(Those noted in Italics are original.)
*Not by HECTOR MACNEILL, as erroneously stated at p. 54.