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HARVARD COLLEGE LIBRARY
THE BEQUEST OF
ENTERED according to Act of Congress, in the year 1844, by
CAREY & HART,
The rise and progress of English poetry form one of the most delightful and instructive chapters in the intellectual history of the world. We trace its glimmering dawn in the ballads of the early minstrels, its brilliant morning in the Canterbury Tales, and its rich and bold development in the literature of the age of Elizabeth, in which British genius reached an elevation unparalleled in the history of mankind. Bacon and HOBBES and COKE, BARROW and TAYLOR and HOOKER, RALEIGH and SELDEN and SIDNEY, SPENSER and SHAKSPEARE and Milton, breathed in the same generation the air of England, and though they did not all give a lyrical expression to thought and passion, they were nearly all poets, in the truest and highest sense of the word, and they formed with their contemporaries the most wonderful constellation of great men that ever adorned a nation or an age.
It is a remark of HUME, that when arts come to perfection in a state they necessarily decline, and seldom or never revive there. In England the decline of poetry, was as rapid as had been its rise, and in the long interregnum which succeeded the Restoration, scarcely a work was produced which has an actual and enduring popularity. The artificial school introduced from the Continent by the followers of CHARLES the Second, attained its acme at last, however, in the polished numbers of Pope, and a gradual return to nature became visible in the productions of Thomson and Cowper and Burns, who ushered in the second great era of British literature, a general view of the poetical portion of which I have endeavoured to present in this volume.
There is at the present time, it seems to me, great need of a work of this sort. The surveys and selections of English poetry from CHAUCER to the close of the last century, are numerous, and some of them, especially those of Campbell and HAZLItt, are made with singular candour and discernment. But there has hitherto been no extensive review of the Poetry of the Nineteenth Century, more rich and varied than that of all other periods, excepting only the golden one of SHAKSPEARE.
From those whose entire works have been republished in this country, and of whom a knowledge may safely be presumed, I have deemed it in some instances
unnecessary to quote very largely, while I have presented comparatively numerous selections from several poets who are less familiar to American readers. It is a singular fact that while, with the exception of TALFOURD, KNOWLES and BULWER, so few have recently added to the stock of standard acting plays, so many fine poems have appeared in the dramatic form. From some of these I have drawn with considerable freedom, though less largely than I should have done but for the difficulty of doing justice to authors in mere extracts from works of this description. One of the most striking distinctions of the poetry of this century is undoubtedly discoverable in the great number of deservedly popular lyrics which it embraces. In no other period have so many exquisite gems of feeling, thought and language been produced. To the best of my judgment I have brought together the most admirable of these, with the finest passages of longer poems which could not themselves be given entire.
The merits of Byron and WORDSWORTH have been amply discussed by recent critics on both sides of the Atlantic, and the claims of SHELLEY begin to attract a share of the attention they deserve. If the author of Childe Harold excelled all others in the poetry of intense emotion, and the bard of Rydal in that of reflective sentiment, SHELLEY has contributed no less to what is purely imaginative in the divine art. The graphic power of CRABBE in dealing with actual and homely materials, the picturesque and romantic beauty of Scott, the wildness, sublimity and feeling of COLERIDGE, the gorgeous description and fine reflection of SouthEY, the voluptuous imagery and happy wit of Moore, the elegance and rhetorical energy of CAMPBELL, have each in their degree influenced the popular taste; while the classical imagery of Keats, the brilliance and tenderness of PROCTOR, the cheerfulness and humanity of Hunt, and the philosophic repose of MILNES, interest the warm sympathies of different readers.
A taste for poetry is visibly increasing among us, especially for that poetry which celebrates the triumphs of humanity, the sacred claims of freedom, the holy associations of love, and all the scenes and sentiments which redeem life and make hallowed ground of the earth. There is much in the following pages fitted to promote and refine such a taste, and that they may essentially contribute to so desirable a result is the earnest hope of the editor.
Philadelphia, October 20, 1844.