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So many collections of favourite poetical pieces, appealing to nearly every variety of taste, have been published of late years that some apology may seem due to the public for adding yet another volume to the number already in existence.
But although there have been sentimental, heroic, humorous, lyrical, juvenile, and devotional collections, there is another kind of poetry which was more in vogue in the reign of Queen Anne, and, indeed, in Ante-Reform-Bill times, than it is at the present day ; a kind which, in its more restricted form, has somewhat the same relation to the poetry of losty imagination and deep feeling, that the Dresden China Shepherds and Shepherdesses of the last century bear to the sculpture of Donatello and Michael Angelo ; namely, smoothly written verse, where a boudoir decorum is, or ought always to be, preserved ; where sentiment never surges into passion, and where humour never overflows into boisterous merriment. The Editor is not aware that a Collection of this peculiar species of exquisitely rounded and polished verse, which, for want of a better title, he has called Lyra Elegantiarum, has ever yet been offered to thę public,
Hitherto this kind of metrical composition has remained difficult of access to the majority of readers, because its most finished specimens have often lain scattered among masses of poetry, more ambitious in aim, but frequently far less worthy of preservation. It seems only reasonable, then, that those who delight in this lighter verse should be enabled to enjoy their favourite pieces in a single volume.
In commencing his task the Editor's first endeavour was to frame a definition of vers d'occasion, or social verse, with sufficient clearness to guide him in making his selection, and he has been desirous of rendering the collection as comprehensive as possible. His second endeavour was to choose those pieces which most completely reached this ideal standard. But it will be easily understood that no exact line of demarcation can in all cases be maintained, and that such verse frequently approximates to other kinds of poetry, such as the song, the parody, the epigram, and even the riddle.
Lest any reader who may not be familiar with this description of poetry should be misled by the adoption of the French title, which the absence of any precise English equivalent seems to render necessary, it may be as well to observe that such verse by no means need be confined to topics of conventional life. Subjects of the most important as well as the most trivial character, may be treated with equal success, provided the manner of their treatment is in accordance with the following characteristics, which the Editor ventures to submit as expressive of his own ideas on this subject. In his judgment Occasional Verse should be short graceful, refined, and fanciful, not seldom distinguished
serious; Sally in our Alley is, perhaps, too homely,
by chastened sentiment, and often playful. The tone should not be pitched high; it should be terse and idiomatic, and rather in the conversational key ; the rhythm should be crisp and sparkling, and the rhyme frequent and never forced, while the entire poem should be marked by tasteful moderation, high finish and completeness; for, however trivial the subjectmatter may be, indeed, rather in proportion to its triviality, subordination to the rules of composition, and perfection of execution, are of the utmost import
The definition may be illustrated by a few examples of pieces which, from the absence of some of the foregoing qualities, or from the excess of others, cannot be properly claimed as Occasional Verse, though they may bear a certain generic resemblance to it. The ballad of John Gilpin, for instance, is too broadly humorous ; Swift's On the Death of Marlborough, and Byron's Windsor Poetics are too satirical and savage; Cowper's My Mary is too pathetic ; Herrick's lyrics to Blossoms and to Daffodils are too and tɔɔ entirely simple and natural, though I should like to have included it; while Pope's Rape of the Lock, which is one of the finest specimens of light verse in any language, must be excluded on account of its length. I should have liked to have added one or two of his exquisite personal compliments, but they might have seemed too fragmentary.
Every piece which has been selected for this volume cannot be expected to exhibit all the characteristics above enumerated, but the qualities of brevity and
are absolutely essential. The poem may be tinctured with a well-bred philosophy, it may be
whimsically sad, it may be gay and gallant, it may be playfully malicious or tenderly ironical, it may display lively banter, and it may be satirically facetious; it may even, considering it merely as a work of art, be pagan in its philosophy or trifling in its tone, but it must never be flat, or ponderous, or common-place.
Having thus fixed upon a definition, the Editor proceeded to put it to a practical use, by submitting it as a touchstone to the various pieces which came under his notice. In the first place it is scarcely necessary to say that all poetry of a strictly religious character, on account of the singleness and earnestness of its tone, is inadmissible in a collection where jest and earnest are inextricably intermingled. All pieces of quasi fashionably jingle have been excluded, because they are usually trashy and vulgar. Some of our best writers of Occasional Verse are not merely tinged with coarseness, they seem to delight in it, and often show much raciness in their revelry, but they are hardly ever vulgar. Vulgarity appears to be a rock on which so many would-be verse writers have suffered, and will continue to suffer, shipwreck.
Fables, prologues, rhymed anecdotes, and pieces of purely ephemeral or personal interest, such as satirical or political squibs, have been generally rejected, as well as those pieces which expand into real song or crystallise into mere epigram, though in these cases, as already observed, the border line is often extremely difficult to define. Riddles, parodies, and punning couplets are for the most part omitted; not, as some readers may suppose, because they are contemptible, for nothing is contemptible that is really good of its kind; but because they do not, strictly speaking, come
within the scope of this work. The sew which are inserted possess an unusual breadth of feeling, or a delicacy of treatment, which elevates them beyond the range of mere epigram, riddle, and parody.
Some epitaphs have been admitted, their epigrammatic character rendering them more elegant and ingenious than solemn or affecting; and a few pieces of gracefully turned nonsense will be found towards the end of the volume, of which The Broken Dish may be cited as a fair specimen. Mr. Hood was very happy in this kind of composition, where a conceit is built up on some pointed absurdity.
Occasional Verse should seem to be entirely spontaneous : when the reader thinks to himself, “ I could have written that, and easily, too,” he pays the author a very high compliment, but, at the same time, it is right to observe, that this absence of effort, as recognised in most works of real excellence, is only apparent; the writing of Occasional Verse is a difficult accomplishment, for a large number of authors, both famous and obscure, have attempted it, but in the great majority of cases with very indifferent success, and no one has fully succeeded who did not possess a certain gift of irony, which is not only a much rarer quality than humour, or even wit, but is less commonly met with than is sometimes imagined. This frequent liability to failure will excite less surprise if it be borne in mind that the possession of the true poetic faculty is not of itself sufficient to guarantee capacity for this inferior branch of the art of versification. The writer of Occasional Verse, in order to be genuinely successful, must not only be something of a poet, but he must also be a man of the world, in the liberal sense of the