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poem which in motive, in form, in diction, in melody, in unity of plan, satisfies all conditions, that it is a joy for ever. It is impossible so to draw out the sweetness of it that it shall not still have as much or much more to yield us than it had at the beginning. How many another book, once read, can afford no more pleasure or profit to us—but poems of the highest order are in their very essence sources of a delight which is inexhaustible. However much of this has been drawn from them, as much or more remains behind.
There is another reflection which may console us in leaving so much untouched. It is this, that almost every considerable poet has written something, in which all that he has of highest and most characteristic has come to a head. Thus I remember that Wordsworth used to speak of Shelley's Ode to a Skylark as the expression of the highest to which his genius had attained. Wordsworth's own Lines on revisiting the banks of the Wye, or, higher perhaps even than these, his Lines suggested by a picture of Peele Castle in a Storm, I should regard as fulfilling for him the same conditions; and what is true of these two, is no less true of other poets out of number.
This volume nowhere contains extracts from larger poems, but only poems which are complete in themselves. It is true that I have sometimes, by the aid of omissions, made room for such as, through their length, or through some other cause, must otherwise have been shut out; but only where I believed these omissions to be real gains; and I have rarely done this without giving due notice to the reader. There are, no doubt, certain inconveniences which attend a resolution only to give entire poems, and not extracts; and this the chief onethat the space allotted to different poets cannot in all or nearly all instances represent or correspond to their several importance. Some have thrown all, or well nigh all, their poetic faculty into the composition of one or two great poems; and have very rarely allowed themselves in briefer excursions into the land of song. Others on the contrary, of not higher, or perhaps of not nearly so high, a gift, have put a large part of their strength into these occasional poems, and will therefore yield for a volume like the present infinitely more than their more illustrious compeers. Under the action of this rule, and dramatic poetry being of necessity excluded, there is nothing of Shakespeare's to choose from but his Sonnets and his Songs—these certainly being in themselves much, but still little when compared with what is passed by. Again, one who does not believe in Alexander's Feast, and still less in the Ode on the Death of Mrs. Killigrew, finds it impossible, to deal anything approaching to justice to Dryden, or by specimens which are at his command to afford any true notion of the range of his powers or the eminence of his place in English literature. It is the same, and nearly to the same extent, with Pope; while others, like Gray and Campbell, get justice and more than justice; though the merits of both are really so great, that it is impossible to grudge this to them in the least. The inconvenience would certainly be a grave one, if the volume presented itself as primarily a Manual of English Poetry, or as an assistance to the study of the history of this; but having quite another as its primary object, it is a drawback which may very well be borne, while the advantages of such a rule of selection are undoubted.
A few notes are attached to this yolume. If in them there is little or nothing with which professed students of English literature are not already familiar, I can only urge that this volume was not designed, and still less were the notes designed, for such ; but for readers who, capable of an intelligent interest in the subject, have yet had neither time nor opportunity for special studies of their own in it, and who must therefore rely more or less on the hand-leading of others; nor, I trust, shall I be found fault with that I have sometimes taken upon me in these notes to indicate what seemed worthy of special admiration; or sought in other ways to plant the reader at that point of view from which the merits of some poem might be most deeply felt and best understood. I must plead in excuse that for myself, in other regions of art, as in music or painting, where I have comparatively little or no confidence in my own judgment, I have been and often am most thankful to those, being such as I could trust, who have told me what to admire, and given me the reasons for so doing. If we set aside a few intuitive geniuses, it is only thus that any of us can ever hope to be educated into independence of judgment; and I am sure that some, acknowledging this, will be grateful for notes of admiration, by which I have sometimes called their attention to that which otherwise might not obtain it, or might not obtain it to the full of its deserts.
PART THE FIRST.
GOOD COUNSAIL OF CHAUCER.
Fly fro the prease, and dwell with soothfastnesse,
Paine thee not ech crooked to redresse