Page images

reaction against the classical, or to speak more correctly,
the critical school of Dryden and Pope become con-
spicuous. The occasional substitution of Greek models
for Latin by Akenside, Gray, Mason, and Glover; the re-
vival of romanticism in such works as Percy's Reliques,—
and the Macpherson and Chatterton forgeries, some of the
Odes of Collins and of the Wartons, the enthusiasm for
nature, the cultivation of the ballad, the reappearance of
the sonnet, the increasing tendency to prefer incident to
reflection, the life of the country to the life of the town,
the affectation of simplicity, the large infusion of senti-
ment, the revival and accentuation of the spirit of liberty,
the awakening of the spirit of philanthropy,-of all this is
the poetry collected by Dodsley and Pearch the record.
In the work of many of these poets it is in some
respects but a step to the work of the great poets of the
next age.
Nature had no more faithful votary or
painter in Wordsworth than she had in the authors of
Grongar Hill, of the Ode to Evening, of the Ode to
Rural Elegance, of Flora's Fables, of The Enthusiast, of
The Minstrel, of Amwell. The note which Scott struck
in The Lay of the Last Minstrel and Marmion had been
struck by Thomas Warton in his Crusade and Grave of
King Arthur. Crabbe is anticipated by Falconer and
Langhorne, Coleridge and Keats in some important
respects by Chatterton and others, and what has been
called the most original contribution ever made to poetry,
the Lyrical Ballads of Wordsworth and Coleridge, may be
resolved into elements, every one of which is to be traced
in our minor poetry between the accession of George
III. and 1790. As in social and political life, so also
in poetry, which is its expression, the great cataclysm
of the Revolution did but broaden and deepen into
torrents and rivers the rills which had their sources and

[ocr errors][merged small]

had defined their channels in the low tablelands of the England of Walpole and of Pulteney, of the Grenvilles and of Lord North. Twenty years later brings us to the Poetical Register, another twenty-two years to Alaric Watts' Poetical Album, another six decades or so to Mr. Alfred Miles' Poets of the Century. In these collections may be traced not merely the evolution of our lyrical poetry but its history from the end of the last century to the present time. We seem as we turn over the pages of the last two Anthologies-the Poetical Register is the asylum of mediocrity-to be once more amid the luxuriance and splendour, the rapture and glory of the Elizabethan Miscellanies. Passion and enthusiasm are again aglow and in a far intenser degree than in the lyrists of England's Helicon and the Poetical Rhapsody. A music as sweet, as liquid, as spontaneous as theirs, but infinitely richer, subtler, and more varied is in our ears. And it is heard on all sides, not in the strains of the master-singers only, but in those of the many who make up the chorus. The high level attained in the minor poetry of the first six decades of the present century has certainly no parallel in any preceding age. Between 1800 and 1860 there are at least a hundred poets, there are probably more, who have the note of distinction, whose note, that is to say, is not essentially commonplace or essentially imitative. Between 1860 and the present time talent has undoubtedly been more conspicuous than genius, but genius has not been rare, and the talent displayed, the standard reached in taste, in receptivity, in

The distinguishing characteristic of the poetry of the present century, regarded comprehensively, is its extraordinary complexity. This has arisen partly from the faithfulness with which it has, in each generation, reflected the intense and manifold life of modern times, and partly from the natural tendency of an age of culture to eclecticism. We may trace in it the influence of every important movement which has from the beginning of the century affected politics and society. Now it has the note of the exaltation and excitement of the revolutionary era, now the note of the reactionary depression which succeeded it. Here it is the trumpet-voice of all that subsequently found vent in the cries for emancipation, relief, and reform, and in the demands and aspirations of the Chartists and Communists; here again it is the protest plaintive, indignant, or humorous of conservative opposition. Of every phase and mood in the conflict. between Christianity and Agnosticism, between Transcendentalism and Science, between the creed of the optimist and the creed of the pessimist it is the faithful expression. The very Æolian harp of the Zeit-Geist, its chords have responded to every breath of the popular breeze. But if the poetry which has had its inspiration from the life of the age blends so many diverse notes, the poetry of culture has still more complexity. The tendency of culture is towards imitation, and imitation is naturally coextensive with what excites admiration and sympathy. Men are now universal students, and the note of the poetry of all ages and of all nations has been caught. and returned by modern lyrists. One recalls the old Greek choruses, another the melic it may be of Sappho, or of Pindar, of Anacreon or of Simonides, another that of Catullus or of Horace. Here Hafiz or Omar is inspiration and model; here it is the accent of Dante.

and his circle, or of Petrarch, or perhaps of Leopardi or of Manzoni. Others recall the lyric of Spain, of Portugal, or of France. One revives Villon, another Ronsard, or the echo is the echo of Béranger, of De Musset, of Victor Hugo. The old German ballads inspire some; in many others the note is the note of Goethe, or of Schiller, of Rückert, or of Heine. Of our own past and of the past of Scotland and Ireland the poetry of every century has its imitators. And the marvel is that so large a portion of this essentially imitative poetry should have so much intrinsic excellence. But excellence it has and often of a high order. Longinus remarks that if inspiration, in the proper sense of the term, is the gift of Heaven, there is an inspiration not less genuine which may be kindled by sympathy. This is the soul of imitative poetry, the informing power which moulds a copy into a counterpart and exalts servility into rivalry. And in this lies the secret of the power and charm of so much of modern poetry.

Such, in slight outline, has been the course of our lyrical poetry, such its general characteristics, such the influences which have at different periods affected it. I have already said that in this selection I have been obliged to subordinate historical illustration to other considerations. I had originally inserted several poems which were of interest because they were particularly typical of the period to which they belonged, but on second thoughts, for the reason which I have stated, they were removed. Still the reader who cares to go

No pains have been spared to secure a correct text in the selections; each poem has been carefully transcribed from the original editions, and where several editions with variants exist, they have been collated, and what seemed to be the best reading given. The old spelling has also been preserved, for, as Dr. Johnson remarked when he censured Lord Hailes for modernising the language of Hales of Eton, "an author's language is a characteristical part of his composition, and is also characteristical of the age in which he writes." In poetry the preservation of the old spelling, unsettled though it was, is more important, for its modernisation often, in my opinion, affects not only the rhythm but the tone and colour of a poem. The only alteration which I have ventured to make, and that because the old forms unnecessarily offend the eye, is to substitute “i” for "y" and "u" for "v." Except in the case of excerpts from long poems not lyrical, each piece has, as a rule, been printed in its entirety, but to this rule it has been found desirable to make exceptions. I have never scrupled to shorten poems when the choice lay between abbreviation or omission, as for example in Cowley's Hymn to Light, Akenside's Hymn to Science, and Smart's Song to David, or to excise a stanza here and there in the shorter pieces, where excision seemed a gain. I have never substituted plausible emendations for the authentic text; but where the text has been plainly wrong, as it has often been found to be, and the correction was obvious, it has been supplied.

To pass to another point. I should like to be allowed to add that if this compilation has been a task it has also been a pleasure. A glance at the names in the index will show that to remember the forgotten and to

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »