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A word must be said upon the scope of this book, and another upon its arrangement.
It is a book of Lyrics : and after comparing several definitions, I take the Lyric to be a short poem-essentially melodious in rhythm and structure-treating summarily of a single thought, feeling, or situation. This circumscription includes the Sonnet, and excludes the Ballad and the Ode, in which the treatment is sustained and progressive rather than summary. The line is notoriously hard to draw; but in practice we find it modcrately easy to discern a Lyric such as 'Crabbed Age and Youth,' or Come Sleep, 0 Sleep!' from an Ode (even though it be not a true Pindaric) such as Spenser's 'Epithalamion,' or a Ballad such as Drayton's Agincourt.'
The epoch of Italian influence upon English song—of that influence which first made itself felt in the verses of Surrey and Wyatt, and was not fairly quenched by the influence of France until the Restoration-falls naturally into two parts; two great creative days with no night between, -for the twilight in which Shirley sang was already trembling with the dawn of Milton. The lyrics in this volume are flowers of the first and incomparably brighter of these two creative days; and at the risk of failing to follow it quite to its close I have stopped short with those poets—with Herrick and Herbert and Shirley—who were born before Elizabeth died. Again the rule may seem a rude one, and it was no sooner made than broken to include Crashaw; but again in practice it will be found (I hope) beyond expectation just.
Now as for the arrangement, the reader may or may not make head and tail of it. And certainly had my purpose been scholastic I had missed my opportunity in not forming up the poets in their birthday order, for in this case the birthday order happens to be full of instructiveness. Day does not move towards night more steadily or by more regular stages than the English lyric passed from
• The soote season that bud and bloom forth brings'.
'Roses, their sharp spines being gone,
But in their hue'; ...
and on to
• The glories of our blood and state
My aim, however, was not to instruct, but merely to please, and to this end I laid down two rules at the beginning. The first with a reservation presently to be noted -was to choose only the best lyrics of the period ; to gather my flowers with a single eye to
• Beauty making beautiful old rhyme';
and to make no effort to distinguish this anthology from others by including verses for their rarity rather than their worth. My second rule was to arrange this garland, as fur
as I could, so that each flower should do its best by its neighbours, either as a foil or by reflection of its colour in thought and style. With this object a piece has here and there been included which on its own merits had fallen below the general standard. An instance occurs on page 256, where Herrick's 'Born was I to be Old’ follows the two famous and more exalted anacreontics of Shakespeare and Fletcher. As a foil to these it exemplifies that earthliness of Herrick which is the defect of his fine quality of concreteness. But he is amply vindicated on other pages. I find, on revising the proofs, that some few flowers have dropped out of their proper places. But on the whole I trust that a fairly continuous chain of thought and feeling has been woven from the beginning, which treats of morning, and youth, and spring
• Flower of the season, season of the flowers,
Son of the sun, sweet spring,'
to Raleigh's noble conclusion of the whole matter.
In saying that no single piece has been selected for its rarity, I should be sorry to seem for a moment to pretend to any unusual acquaintance with the byways of Elizabethan poetry; for indeed I have done little more than exercise a right of choice in gardens prepared by such distinguished Elizabethan scholars as Mr. A. H. Bullen and Doctors Hannah and Grosart. My debt to Mr. Bullen's volumes of 'Lyrics from the Elizabethan Song-Books,' apparent to the initiated on every third or fourth page, is acknowledged from time to time in the Notes: to acknowledge it everywhere was impossible. To Dr. Grosart I am particularly obliged, who, on hearing that this anthology was contemplated, wrote and placed the stores of his Elizabethan learning at my disposal. His offer reached me when the great part of the book stood already in print; and the advantage taken of it has been therefore all too slight: but the goodwill that prompted it—the goodwill of a veteran scholar towards a trifling recruit—is pleasant to record and remember.