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is a strong one; but throughout Chaucer's poetry there are many smaller visual allegories, of subtle or high significance, that remain painted into the mind beautifully after due reading, and become, as we may say, Chaucerian forms of thinking that one would not willingly lose. So, in perhaps a larger way, though a laxer and more dreamy and luxurious, with the poetry of Spenser. One wanders through the Faery Queene as through an infinite enchanted wood, the allegories and phantasmagories gleaming out and vanishing in bewildering succession ; but, in the end, what a storing of the mind, through the overclouded eyes, with visions and their meanings, and what a discipline in that wondrous Elizabethan ideality or Spenserianism! For the present age, or for many in it, what one would recommend, as the best corrective of prosaic and too low habits of intellect, might be a course of reading in Spenser. Unfortunately, those who need the medicine most are those whom it would soonest disgust.

Another good to be got from readings in our older English poetry, if on a sufficient scale, is an acquaintance with the characters and physiognomies of men worthy to be remembered. No reading of poetry, no criticism of it, satisfies ultimately that does not lead to some conception, more or less distinct, of the personality of the poet. We have allowed ourselves to be too much in a haze, in this respect, even in our so-called “studies” of English poetry. About our more recent poets we know always something independently through report or biography ; but about our older poets, who are to be discerned mainly through their poetry, we remain often in a state of ignorance for which there is no

Of the personalities of Milton, Ben Jonson, and one or two others, it is true, the tradition is forcible enough; the eternal search after Shakespeare himself through his plays and poems has been more successful than unbelieving stupidity will yet admit; and, as far back as the very horizon of modern English, all do see, more or less vaguely, the shy and genial visage of the portly Chaucer. But about the majority we are utterly careless : we take their poetry as so much casual growth that has come down to us somehow in the British wind from certain spots of time, and we let the authors themselves hover behind as phantoms or abstractions. The fault does not lie in the absence of means of knowledge; it lies in the indolent habit of being uninquisitive, or content with the indistinct. Take, for example, Langland. It needs only such a reading of his poems as is now easy enough (thanks to Mr. Skeat !) to see and know Langland himself as vividly as if he had lived yesterday, and so to add to our gallery of English portraits that of a most extraordinary man, the one literary contemporary of Chaucer that deserves to be pedestalled beside him and remembered in contrast with him. Langland actually starts out of his poems. So, in part, with Gavin Douglas, the most difficult of the old Scottish poets perhaps to a modern reader, but of higher quality in some respects than any of his Scottish contemporaries.. What is Gavin Douglas now, for most of his own countrymen even, but a pretendedly affectionate name for an uncouth ecclesiastic that lived in Scotland at some time or other and is said to have written verse? Yet, even without the light afforded by Mr. Small's memoir of Douglas and its included documents, it needs but a reading of the poet's own prologues to the successive books of his translation of the Æneid to realize for us Gavin himself most exactly amid all his antique Edinburgh surroundings in the year of Flodden. And why not the same wherever it is possible? No bad measure of mental power is the number of characters that one knows, or knows something about ; and readings in old poetry are a very pleasant way indeed of increasing the number of one's dead acquaintances.


The remark may be extended a little. There is no better way of cultivating the historical sense generally, and of clearing up one's notions of any particular portion of the past, than acquaintance with the poetic and other literary remains that have survived from former times. Life on the earth as a whole, or on any one part of it, is an incessantly advancing roar of the present, throwing off behind it an ever longer and longer wake of silence; and the historical sense consists in being able to imagine the roar back at its full to any one point in the past, and feeling the same essential humanity as now to have been then going on.

A great while ago the world began,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,” says Shakespeare in that Fool's lyric of which he was so fond that he has made it do duty twice; and there is nothing that so verifies the mystery, and so brings down the living "hey, ho,” with the sound of the wind and the plash of the rain, from any one day in the long series, all rainy alike, as the songs then actually sung and the poems and other things then actually penned. They are the real transmitted bits of the defunct life and mind of that epoch, and not merely secondhand accounts of the same; and, as we read, we can see, and listen, and infer. So in general; and not the least valuable lesson, in particular, that may be thus learnt is a correction of that overweening conceit of the present which ignorance of history is apt to produce. Wherever, in any literary form, we find powerful thought, high feeling, or graceful and ingenious expression, there, we may be sure, though all other records should have perished, the life round about must have corresponded. And so, even where the other records may be abundant enough, there may be additional and finer light from the poetry that has remained. The reader of Shakespeare and of Spenser may legitimately infuse his knowledge of them into his conception of Elizabethan England; the Scotland of the sixteenth century will seem much less of a mere barbaric blurr to one who knows something of Dunbar, Gavin Douglas, and Lyndsay, than it is usually figured from the pages of professed historians; and the student of Langland and Chaucer will cut deeply into the England of the fourteenth century with that two-handed axe.

Books of Extracts or Specimens of old English Poetry can never supersede the necessity, for all thorough and scholarly purposes, of direct and wide ranging among the originals. They have, nevertheless, their uses. They are convenient for those who have not access to the originals on any large scale, or have not leisure for extensive reading ; they may create a taste for such more extensive reading when leisure will permit; and they are all but indispensable companions for those who may be studying the history of English literature chronologically by means of manuals. By presenting many old poets close together in their historical succession, they even press certain things upon the attention more effectively than would a course of diffuse reading. Passing 'from poet to poet, and from group to group of poets, one notes more easily and strongly their connections and overlappings, and the curious changes, from generation to generation, of poetical tastes and forms.

In the present Volume of Selections the intention is rather literary than philological. There are very excellent volumes of extracts already, illustrating, for students of the English language, the old state of that language and its gradual progress. This volume has been compiled, therefore, on the principle of selecting specimens of literary interest, characteristic of the successive poets at their best, and so furnishing a chronological representation of the non-dramatic poetry of England and Scotland from Chaucer's time to Herrick's that may be enjoyable by itself, and may yet be useful in connection with any of the existing manuals of English literary history. Having been cognisant of the progress of the book from time to time, I am able to say that the specimens have by no means been taken at random, but are a careful selection of what seemed best and most suitable in each case, after wide readings and markings in the various authors by the compiler herself. Pains have been taken also to secure the best texts. In the Chaucer specimens, for example, there has been reference always, where that would serve, to the splendid “Six-Text Print of the Canterbury Tales,” edited for the Chaucer Society by Mr. Furnivall, with as accurate fidelity to the readings there authorised as would consist with the style of spelling which the purpose of this volume obliges. So, for the Langland specimens, Mr. Skeat's admirable edition of Langland for the Early English Text Society has been closely studied, with a retention of such particulars of archaic spelling as might bring out better to the reader's ear the peculiar alliterative rhythm. For the later writers the standard editions, where such exist, have been resorted to, including Mr. Laing's Dunbar and Lyndsay, Mr. Small's Gavin Douglas, Mr. Grosart's fine and perfect editions of Sidney, Donne, and some others of the rarer Elizabethans, and a few of Mr. Arber's valuable reprints. The Introductions are purposely brief, being confined to such biographical and critical notices of the poets in succession as might insert them in their proper places in the history of English poetry, while indicating their individual peculiarities. The Footnotes consist mainly of explanations of words or allusions. For the convenience of many readers, the explanation of an obscure word is repeated nearly as often as it occurs; and an explanation is sometimes given where to some readers it might seem unnecessary.


EDINBURGH: May 2, 1876.

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