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ON consulting the most remote history, not only of European nations but those of the wildest regions, under the frigid and the torrid zones, we shall uniformly find, that the vocal chant has at all periods and every where predominated. Religious ceremonies have been accompanied by solemn strains of melody,-the songs of war and of victory are proverbial,— and the funereal dirge is sung as the final tribute of devotional love and respect for the manes of a departed spirit. Such we conceive to have been the origin of all Song, which, in remote ages, does not appear to have extended beyond the celebration of such solemn rites. In process of time the epithalamium was performed at nuptial ceremonies, from whence, in all probability, originated the sprightlier amatory and Bacchanalian strains.
As early as the reign of the heroic Alfred, history affords incontestible proof that the harp was the favoured instrument among the Britons, and in various manuscript Saxon records, still preserved, the rude illuminations introduced as embellishments, represent persons performing on that and other minor instruments. With respect to the stile of composition used during those dark ages, nothing for a certainty has been handed down; and it is only from the period of the Norman conquest that we are enabled to trace any thing of that nature that can be relied upon. William the Conqueror was certainly accompanied in his expedition by many Trouverres, Chanterres, Jongleurs, Troubadours, or Minstrels, originally of Provence, who played a species of wild music, accompanied by extempore verse, in the stile of the Italian Improvvisatori. In Percy's Relics of Ancient English Poetry is a specimen of the versification of Richard Cœur de Lion; and Blondiaux, or Blondel, the Provençal bard, who was the
intimate and associate of that belligerent monarch, composed a legendary air still preserved, and introduced in the interesting theatrical after-piece on the subject of that prince, which is no mediocre proof of the feeling and pathos that characterized the productions of the period in question. The national ballad of Chevy Chase is well known to every lover of harmony, and a more beautiful strain, accompanied by many touches of pure pathetic versification, is not to be found in the vocal annals of any country.
We have deemed it requisite to offer the foregoing cursory remarks on the origin of English Song, in order to prove that all the subsequent efforts at composition are indebted for their existence to vocal harmony.
In regard to the present publication, which is intended to chronicle songs from the earliest period to the present day, if we may be permitted to judge from the pulse of public approbation, the UNIVERSAL SONGSTER has incontestibly established its reputation; which derives no small portion of popularity from the combined humourous illustrations of Messrs. George and Robert Cruikshank, displayed in the pictorial embellishments that accompany our numbers, which sketches are faithfully and exquisitely engraved by Mr. J. R. Marshall.
In the progress of this periodical work the same indefatigable industry will uniformly be exemplified, which we feel no small degree of pride in stating has insured us, independent of the labours of those now no more, the assistance of the best composers of songs at present living. To those we beg to offer our sincere acknowledgements, without particularizing names, which we should be happy to insert, were it not from a fear of giving offence to many poetical geniuses less known, who might conceive themselves entitled to similar notice.
With every sentiment of respect,
We beg to subscribe ourselves,
The devoted servants of the Public,