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TO THE READER.
This volume (first of three Series) consists of poems, chiefly lyrical, selected from the works of the Elder English poets, beginning with Chaucer and ending with the school of Gray and Cowper. The Second Series, conceived after the same plan, will begin with Burns and end with the poets of to-day. The Third Series is to contain specimens of the great masters of English Prose, from the period of the early chroniclers to the present time. Taken separately, it is hoped that each little volume may be found attractive and companionable; while taken together they will, if they fulfil the design of Editor and Publishers, afford a pleasant birds'-eye view ranging over nearly five-hundred years of English Literature.
With regard to the First Series, it has seemed above all things important that the contents of the book should be choice and various; that no short poem (such as Milton's Lycidas or Gray's Elegy) which comes down to us stamped with the approval of generations, should be omitted; that fragments, political verses, and everything of a polemic or dramatic character
should be deemed foreign to the general plan of the work; and that no poem, however beautiful, which could be supposed to have an objectionable tendency, should find a place in its pages. It is hoped that in so far as care and patience may be trusted to ensure the fulfilment of a long-cherished plan, these conditions have been scrupulously observed.
Concerning the order in which the poems are presented, it must be remembered that a question of arrangement is in fact a question of taste, and that a question of taste' will always be open to dispute. Campbell's seven learned volumes of “Specimens of English Poetry” follow a chronological order. The well-known “ Elegant Extracts" are classified under headings “Didactic,” “Pastoral," "Amatory," and the like. “The Golden Treasury," unapproachable for exquisite taste and scholarship, is divided into four parts designated as the Books of Shakespeare, Milton, Gray and Wordsworth. The Editor of this present collection has, however, prefered to consider English Poetry under only two aspects, and broadly to separate it into only two epochs-namely the Past and the Present. The Past is held to begin at that critical period when our language, having just passed as it were from the fluid to the crystalline stage, found an exponent in the author of The Canterbury Tales; while the Present is dated from the advent of Robert Burns.
TO THE READER.
Except, then, as the poems in this Series belong to the elder school of English verse, every chronological consideration has been put aside, and the position of each piece determined solely by its relation to that which goes before and after it. Hence Waller and Ben Jonson, William Blake and Beaumont will be found side by side, according as each may illustrate or contrast with the other; while readers who care to observe the attitude of contemporary thought on certain universal subjects, such as Love, or Death, or the Influences of Nature, will elsewhere find grouped together poems which treat of a common theme. These groups, again, are for the most part linked with other groups in such wise as to carry on slight chains of connection between subjects far apart. To the few who may be interested in tracing them, these lines of association will perhaps convey an added sense of harmony; while for those who prefer dipping into the book wherever it may chance to open, each poem will have its individual and unassisted charm. Here and there, to suggest the intended sequence, the Editor, following the precedent of Mr. W. G. Palgrave,* has ventured, though with all diffidence, to give or alter a title. It may be as well to observe, however, that readers who desire to take the poets in strict order of
* Some few of the titles here given are adopted from The Golden Treasury, and some of Mr. W. G. Palgrave's Notes, with due acknowledgment, have been quoted.