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distributed among the others, but be placed where they naturally would have been placed had the collection. been arranged chronologically.
This Treasury has also another aim, a subordinate aim it is true, but one which has never been lost sight of, and that is to illustrate the history of our minor lyric poetry-not its form, that has been for obvious reasons impossible, but its essence and spirit. The period covered is from the first half of the thirteenth century to recent times, a period of some seven hundred years. The present collection extends to four books. The first book comprises selections from the minor poetry which appeared between the middle of the thirteenth century and the close of the Elizabethan Age; the selections in the second book range from 1625 to 1700; in the third book, from 1700 to 1798; in the fourth, from 1798 to recent times. Living poets have for obvious reasons been excluded.
Fletcher of Saltoun's famous saying about the ballads of a nation is susceptible of a much wider application than he gave to it. It is in the minor poetry of an age that contemporary life impresses itself most deeply, and finds perhaps its most faithful mirror. In the great masterpieces of poetry that life is presented in an ideal light, and in relation to ideal truth. What belongs to a time is subordinated to what belongs to all time, what is actual to what is typical, what is local to what is universal. There is, moreover, in genius of the higher order a dominant, a despotic individuality which tempers
not in the Faerie Queen or even in the Dramas of Shakespeare that the England of Elizabeth and James is presented to us on all its sides, for Spenser never forgets that he is a didactic allegorist, and Shakespeare that he is a dramatic artist. Still less is the England of the Revolution reflected in the masterpieces of Milton, or the England of the latter part of the eighteenth and the first part of the nineteenth century in the masterpieces of Byron, Scott, Wordsworth, and Shelley. It is otherwise with the minor poetry of any particular era. Here for the eclecticism, if we may so express it, of the great masters the age itself finds a tongue. For the voice which speaks in these poets is the voice of the nation, of the courtier, of the statesman, and man of affairs, of the scholar, and litterateur, of the churchman, of the man of pleasure, of the busy citizen, of the recluse, of the soldier and sailor, of the peasant, of the mechanic, and of women of all classes and of all callings. What is moulding, what is colouring, what is in any way affecting the life of the time has its record here. Is the pulse of the nation quickened or depressed; are imagination. and passion, or fancy and sentiment, or reason and reflection in the ascendant, is the prevailing tendency in the direction of simplicity and nature, or towards ingenuity and art, is the moral tone in society high or low, is the period a period of progress, or of decadence, or of transition, the answer to all this may be found, and found in detail, in our collections of minor poetry. Take, for instance, the poetry of the Sloane and Harleian MSS. with the other poetry in Mr. Wright's Collections. Here is the England of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries so fully, so faithfully depicted, that its social and political history might be written from those anthologies. Gushing from the heart as the song of a bird
ring out those primitive lyrics, with their gracious simplicity, their freshness, their abandon, their harmonious responsiveness to the inspiring mood. Be the theme what it may, sincerity, truth, and nature prevail. In the love lyrics hope and despair, rapture and compliment express themselves without conceits, and with charming naïveté. No jarring chord of distrust or doubt is audible in the religious poetry which is the simple expression of thanksgiving, praise, and prayer. Let us go forward to 1557 to Edward's Paradise of Dainty Devices and to Tottel's Miscellany. Here all the characteristics of the period, stretching from the dawn of the Reformation to the last two years of Mary's reign, have full illustration, the influence exercised on our literature by the Latin classics, by Italy, by Spain, the last notes of mediævalism blending with the first notes of the new world, the affectation of the forms and fashions of the Renaissance, the large infusion of moral and religious reflection, the gloom, depression, and anxiety which darkened and vexed those sombre times. Let us pass on to the beginning of the next century to England's Helicon (1600), and to Davison's Poetical Rhapsody (1602). Here we are at the acme of the great Elizabethan Age. The clouds have rolled away, all is splendour, all is joy. The extraordinary complexity and tropical luxuriance of that wonderful era which seems to blend all that characterises the infancy, the maturity, and the decadence of a literature in its entirety, are fully displayed in those collections. But the pre
forward eighty-two years to the next important Treasury of Minor Poetry. Between 1684 and 1716 appeared Tonson's Miscellanies in six parts. We turn over its pages; we are not only in another world but in a world which seems scarcely to retain any trace of the former. Imagination has disappeared, enthusiasm has disappeared, fervour, colour, richness all are gone; rhetoric has superseded passion; simplicity and naïveté have given place to ingenuity and wit, not the ingenuity and wit of the metaphysical school, but of a generation which has receded much farther from the sphere of poetry, and which seems indeed to have lost all touch with it. Pitched in as low a key as they well could be, both ethic and æsthetic have alike degenerated. High instincts, high aims, high actions are never the themes. Nothing is so rare as a touch of romance or transcendentalism. If the love poetry is not marked, as it frequently is, by cynicism and grossness, levity and libertinism are its characteristics, expressed, it is true, with so much grace and charm of style as not to be repulsive. It is the poetry of an age of reaction, and of reaction in a twofold sense, spiritually and morally against the ideals of Puritanism and of the religious party generally, artistically against the licence and extravagance of the Elizabethans and their immediate successors. But it is the poetry also of an age of revolution. As between the accession of Elizabeth and about 1616 everything contributed to subordinate the genius of science and criticism to the genius of romance and poetry, so at the time of the Restoration the tendency was exactly the reverse. A great scientific movement had passed over Europe and had become influential everywhere. The spirit of inquiry, of analysis, of reflection was at work in all directions. Men reasoned, where before
they felt, and questioned, where before they accepted and enjoyed. To think clearly, to argue correctly, and to express the results in a precise and lucid style was the surest way of hitting the popular taste. The poets, under the dominion of the same influence, followed the prose-writers, and so far as essentials are concerned there is little to distinguish them. Both dealt with the same subjects and treated them in the same spirit. The charm of both lies partly in their moderation, knowledge of life, wit, and good sense, and partly in their power of expression. In both this reached a high degree of excellence. Nothing could be more finished than the style of some of these poets, than the style, for example, of Rochester, of Sedley, and of Congreve at its best. But the light of poetry burns very low in these the luminaries of Tonson's Collection, as it burnt very low in the sun of their system the great Dryden himself. Again let us go forward sixty-seven years and take the last edition of Dodsley's Collection with Pearch's Supplement published respectively in 1782 and 1783. We have here, illustrated from the writings of minor poets, a complete history of our poetry from the appearance of Pope to the dawn of the era of Wordsworth and Coleridge. And step by step we may trace its progress. First we mark the predominance of all that characterised the work of Pope and his school, those ethical commonplaces, that refined mock-heroic, that admirable satire, that point, that wit, that perfection of mechanical form. But side by side with this, sotto