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POETRY AND POETS
FROM CHAUCER TO TENNYSON,
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES, AND A RAPID VIEW OF THE
CHARACTERISTIC ATTRIBUTES OF EACH.
AN INTRODUCTORY ESSAY
ORIGIN AND PROGRESS OF ENGLISH POETICAL
From the reception which the following body of selections from the poetry of our country has met with, it has been suggested to the publishers, that the volume may not prove unacceptable to readers beyond the sphere of those for whom it was in the first place specifically intended. They have therefore resolved to issue it in a form more adapted to the library, or to the drawing-room table.
The leading principle which governed the compiler in the choice of the pieces, was their suitableness for the purposes of education : but in no national poetry, perhaps, can this object be so easily combined with the selection of the pleasing and the beautiful, as in that of England. The following extracts will therefore be found to contain a large proportion of what will be read and studied, not only with instruction but with delight, while the extent over which the extracts range will furnish, to students of our British poetry, a succinct and comprehensive manual of its history and its characteristics.
It has been objected, that the compiler has not exhibited with sufficient breadth the dramatic literature of the period included in the later portion of the sixteenth and the earlier portion of the seventeenth century. He is himself perfectly aware of this, and has assigned a reason for this course.* He was unwilling to compress farther his already
• See Life of Marlow, p. 74.
compressed extracts from Shakespeare, as an author most eminently useful in the promotion of the object of the volume: and accordingly he was forced to abandon the greater number of the poets whose works form that singular galaxy of dramatic power, which filled the half century between the later portion of Elizabeth's reign and that of Charles I. An absence of comic extracts has also been noticed. The Compiler was anxious to have furnished some of this class; but, besides the difficulty of finding pieces of a length and character adapted to his purpose, he conceived that the specimens which he could have selected would have afforded but a very defective and meagre view of the progress of the comic drama, whose history is distinct from that of every other department of our literature, and whose character has continually varied with the various changes of English manners and tastes. The illustration by extracts of the English drama in both its departments is extensive enough to form material for a separate volume.
It has also been remarked as anomalous, that so much space has been afforded to Swift, a writer of an unamiable and even objectionable character, and destitute of the true spirit and feeling of a poet, while so little room has been accorded to the charming descriptions of Thomson. The compiler conceived that Swift is an author so remarkable, as differing in spirit and style from the artificial mannerism of his age, both in prose and verse, and as furnishing examples of the purest simplicity in English writing, that, independently of his historical influence on the thinking and the writing of the times in which he lived, he seemed to merit a conspicuous place in the list of English classics. Besides, the extract from his poem on his own death furnishes an interesting example of the phenomena of a mind, whose singular psychological structure has been an object of wonder and mystery to all his biographers. On the other hand, descriptive poetry is sufficiently abundant in the Extracts, and has in general too much en