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Suka-thow in living loyal
Refore thine inner gaze
Oftinepetle woulder_thoi ting
Ofthe great lamullo cling
And they who heal theliu:
What-art is his to writtewepetts to find
Tralliam Gillen Bryant
POETS AND POETRY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
SUPPOSE it is not necessary to give a reason for adding another to the collections
of this nature, already in print. They abound in every language, for the simple reason that there is a demand for them. German literature, prolific as it is in verse, has many of them, and some of them compiled by distinguished authors. The parlor table and the winter fireside require a book which, when one is in the humor for reading poetry and knows not what author to take up, will supply exactly what he wants.
I have known persons who frankly said that they took no pleasure in reading poetry, and perhaps the number of those who make this admission would be greater were it not for the fear of appearing singular. But to the great mass of mankind poetry is really a delight and a refreshment. To many, perhaps to most, it is not requisite that it should be of the highest degree of merit. Nor, although it be true that the poems which are most famous and most highly prized are works of considerable length, can it be said that the pleasure they give is in any degree proportionate to the extent of their plan. It seems to me that it is only poems of a moderate length, or else portions of the greater works to which I refer, that produce the effect upon the mind and heart which make the charm of this kind of writing. The proper office of poetry, in filling the mind with delightful images and awakening the gentler emotions, is not accomplished on a first and rapid perusal, but requires that the words should be dwelt upon until they become in a certain sense our own, and are adopted as the utterance of our own minds. A collection such as this is intended to be furnishes for this purpose portions of the best English verse suited to any of the varying moods of its readers.
Such a work also, if sufficiently extensive, gives the reader an opportunity of comparing the poetic literature of one period with that of another; of noting the fluctuations of taste, and how the poetic forms which are in fashion during one age are laid aside in the next; of observing the changes which take place in our language, and the sentiments which at different periods challenge the public approbation. Specimens of the poetry of different centuries presented in this way show how the great stream of human thought in its poetic form eddies now to the right and now to the left, wearing away its banks first on one side and then on the other. Some author of more than common faculties and more than common boldness catches the public attention, and immediately he has a crowd of followers who form their taste on his and seek to divide with him the praise. Thus Cowley, with his undeniable
genius, was the head of a numerous class who made poetry consist in far-fetched conceits, ideas oddly brought together, and quaint turns of thought. Pope, following close upon Dryden, and learning much from him, was the founder of a school of longer duration, which found its models in Boileau and other poets of the reign of Louis the Fourteenth, a school in which the wit predominated over the poetry, a school marked by striking oppositions of thought, frequent happinesses of expression, and a carefully balanced modulation, — numbers pleasing at first, but in the end fatiguing. As this school degenerated the wit almost disappeared, but there was no new infusion of poetry in its place. When Scott gave the public the Lay of the Last Minstrel, and other poems, which certainly, considered as mere narratives, are the best we have, carrying the reader forward without weariness and with an interest which the author never allows to subside, a crowd of imitators pressed after him, the greater part of whom are no longer read. Wordsworth had, and still has, his school; the stamp of his example is visible on the writings of all the poets of the present day. Even Byron showed himself, in the third canto of Childe Harold, to be one of his disciples, though he fiercely resented being called so. The same poet did not disdain to learn of Scott in composing his narrative poems, such as the Bride of Abydos and the Giaour, though he could never tell a story in verse without occasional tediousness. In our day the style of writing adopted by eminent living poets is often seen reflected in the verses of their younger contemporaries, --sometimes with an effect like that of a face beheld in a tarnished mirror. Thus it is that poets are formed by their influence on one another; the greatest of them are more or less indebted for what they are to their predecessors and their contemporaries.
While speaking of these changes in the public taste, I am tempted to caution the reader against the mistake often made of estimating the merit of one poet by the too easy process of comparing him with another. The varieties of poetic excellence are as great as the varieties of beauty in flowers or in the female face. There is no poet, indeed no author in any department of literature, who can be taken as a standard in judging of others; the true standard is an ideal one, and even this is not the same in all men's minds. One delights in grace, another in strength; one in a fiery vehemence and enthusiasm on the surface, another in majestic repose and the expression of feeling too deep to be noisy; one loves simple and obvious images strikingly employed, or familiar thoughts placed in a new light, another is satisfied only with novelties of thought and expression, with uncommon illustrations and images far sought. It is certain that each of these modes of treating a subject may have its peculiar merit, and that it is absurd to require of those whose genius inclines them to one that they should adopt its opposite, or to set one down as inferior to another because he is not of the same class. As well, in looking through an astronomer's telescope at that beautiful phenomenon, a double star, in which the twin flames are one of a roseate and the other of a golden tint, might we quarrel with either of them because it is not colored like its fellow. Some of the comparisons made by critics between one poet and another are scarcely less preposterous than would be a comparison between a river and a mountain.
The compiler of this collection has gone as far back as to the author who may