« PreviousContinue »
them, as a fine sonnet has been called, a difficult trifle. A circle may be very small, yet it may be as mathematically beautiful and perfect as a larger one. To such compositions we may apply the observation of an ancient critic, that though a little thing gives perfection, yet perfection is not a little thing.
“ The poet to succeed in these hazardous pieces must be alike polished by an intercourse with the world, as with the studies of taste, to whom labour is negligence, refinement a science, and art a nature. Genius will not always be sufficient to impart that grace of amenity which seems peculiar to those who are accustomed to elegant society. . . . These productions are more the effusions of taste than genius, and it is not sufficient that the poet is inspired by the Muse, he must also suffer his concise page to be polished by the hand of the Graces."
A reviewer in The Times newspaper has made the following note-worthy remarks on the subject of vers de société, more especially of a certain kind : “ It is the poetry of men who belong to society, who have a keen sympathy with the lightsome tone and airy jesting of fashion ; who are not disturbed by the flippances of small talk, but, on the contrary, can see the gracefulness of which it is capable, and who, nevertheless, amid all this froth of society, feel that there are depths in our nature, which even in the gaiety of drawingrooms cannot be forgotten. Theirs is the poetry of bitter-sweet, of sentiment that breaks into humour, and of solemn thought, which, lest it should be too
solemn, plunges into laughter: it is in an especial sense the verse of society. When society ceases to be simple it becomes sceptical. Nor are we utterly to condemn this sceptical temper as a sign of corruption. It is assumed in self-defence, and becomes a necessity of rapid conversation. When society becomes refined, it begins to dread the exhibition of strong feeling, no matter whether real or simulated. If real, it disturbs the level of conversation and of manners—if simulated, so much the worse. In such an atmosphere, emotion takes refuge in jest, and passion hides itself in scepticism of passion : we are not going to wear our hearts upon our sleeves, rather than that we shall pretend to have no heart at all ; and if, perchance, a bit of it should peep out, we shall hide it again as quickly as possible, and laugh at the exposure as a good joke. . . . In the poets who represent this social mood there is a delicious piquancy, and the way they play at bo-peep with their feelings makes them a class by themselves.”
Suckling and Herrick, Swift and Prior, Cowper and Thomas Moore, and Praed and Thackeray, may be considered the representative men in this branch of literature.
Unfortunately, the copyright of Mr. Thackeray's poems has become the property of his publishers, and they have declined to allow any extracts from his works to be printed here ; but the Editor has given a list in the Table of Contents of those pieces of vers de ciété by which he thinks Mr. Thackeray will hereafter honourably remembered.
Thanks are due to the other proprietors of the respective copyright pieces, for their courtesy and liberality in allowing their insertion.
This collection has been arranged more or less chronologically, but, to give it variety, the works of contemporary writers have been mixed, and where two authors have written on the same subject, though at different epochs, it has been thought interesting to bring them side by side. For this reason the epitaphs, epigrams, political squibs, and convivial pieces, &c., have been kept together, and occur at intervals throughout the volume.
The collection has been restricted to the writings of deceased authors, and as this kind of metrical composition is little cultivated at the present day, the Editor hopes that his book will not much suffer in consequence, although at the same time he regrets that the rule which he has laid down prevents his giving specimens from the writings of Messrs. Browning and Tennyson, of Lord Houghton, of Messrs. C. S. Calverly, George Cayley, Mortimer Collins, and Planché, and of Dr. O. W. Holmes, the American poet, and perhaps the best living writer of this species of verse ; and of some others who have written anonymously.
Much difficulty has been encountered in fixing the correct reading of several of the poems, which varies in different collections; and wherever the Editor has felt a doubt about the authorship of a poem, he has preferred leaving the question open.
He has taken great care to make the selection as
complete as possible, still he trusts to the indulgence of his readers for any omissions or errors which it may exhibit.
TO MISTRESS MARGARET HUSSEY.