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A NEW Treasury of British poetry might almost seem an impertinence, so numerous, and in many cases so excellent, are collections of this kind. To go no farther than Mr. Francis Palgrave's Golden Treasury, Dean Trench's Household Book of English Poetry, Mr. Locker-Lampson's Lyra Elegantiarum, and Mr. Humphry Ward's English Poets, are not these, it may be asked, all that lovers of poetry could desire, and are not these in everybody's hands? I, for one, should certainly reply in the affirmative, and I should no more think of entering into 'competition with them than I should think of re-gathering and presenting again the flowers of their anthologies. If this collection has any relation to them it is that of the aftermath to the full harvest, of the gleaner to the binder of the sheaves. But I modestly claim for this little volume an independent place. It is an experiment, and it is, so far as I know, an experiment which has not been attempted before. The principle on which the poems have been selected, and the principle on which they have been arranged, I must ask permission to explain fully and precisely, and this is the more necessary as my book, unfortunately, labours under the disadvantage of being very imperfectly described by its title. It is commonly objected to anthologies that they copy each other, that they travel in a round, that the same poets,
illustrated by the same poems, appear and reappear till they become trite by repetition, and that this applies not merely to poets who have long been classical and whose names are household words, but to the minor poets also. Thus, as surely as Ben Jonson, Herrick, and Waller are presented, so surely is the one the herald of Drink to me only with thine eyes and Queen and Huntress, the other of Gather ye rosebuds and Faire Daffodils, and the third of Go, lovely rose. A few original explorers of taste and judgment add from time to time to the treasury of gems, which soon passes into common property, till at last, as anthologies multiply, they become little more than compilations from compilations. As long as selections confine themselves to certain poets and to the very best things of their kind, to gems, so to speak, of the first water, it is difficult to see how this can be avoided; for poetry attaining a very high standard, though abundant, is soon exhausted, and repetition is inevitable. Without questioning the truth of the Greek proverb δὶς ἢ τρὶς τὰ καλὰ, that we cannot have too much of a good thing, I should yet not have ventured to add another volume to the volumes already dedicated to such good things. My chief object has been, if I may say so, to supplement those works and to introduce the general reader to poems which, though well worth his attention, are, as a rule, not to be found at all in popular anthologies, and in no case are among the stockpieces in those collections, and with which presumably therefore he will not be familiar. I have for this reason excluded all those poets who may be regarded as classics, as well as those who are much in vogue. Thus Chaucer is passed over; thus in the Elizabethan Age, to say nothing of Spenser and Shakespeare, Marlowe and Ben Jonson have no place. In the eighteenth
century neither Pope nor Swift, neither Gray nor Collins, neither Goldsmith nor Cowper is represented. In the nineteenth century exclusion has even extended to Moore and Southey. If I have included Waller, Congreve, Prior, and Thomson, it is only because I have sought to give prominence to one or two poems which are not generally noticed. And what applies to them applies to Crabbe.
But I have confined my area within stricter limits still. Where a poet has only written two or three good things, which have gone the round of the anthologies, I have omitted him. Where a poet's work has been abundant I have carefully avoided the "gems" with which every one is familiar, and have chosen what seemed to me best in the residue. I have thus had to deprive my book of many diamonds, but I hope I have secured in their place as many excellent pearls. I have not, it is true, excluded all poems which are familiar even to the general reader. I have inserted for instance Logan's Braes of Yarrow and Ode to the Cuckoo, but I have done my utmost to avoid what is trite.
But what has been restricted on one side has been allowed latitude on another. I have not confined myself to songs and lyrics, though songs and lyrics are the staple of my collection. I have plucked a flower wherever I could find it. I have occasionally detached passages from voluminous narrative, philosophic, and mock-heroic poems. From long lyrics I have chosen a stanza or two, or even a few lines; I have not excluded sonnets; I have not grudged a place to a good epigram. Wherever in my rambles among tombs I have come upon an epitaph which seemed worthy of preservation I have inserted it, and I venture to think that I have thus saved from perishing more than one of those compositions
which well deserve to be remembered. With all this variety every endeavour has been made to give a certain unity to the collection, and to prevent it from becoming, what it so easily might have become, a mere miscellany. It will be seen that each piece illustrates some phase it may be of thought, it may be of passion, it may be of sentiment in relation to life or to death, or in relation to supernaturalism or to nature-in other words, that the note throughout is lyrical. Within this limit the selections are in every possible tone between the intense expression of intense emotion, and the gayest and lightest abandon of the humorist and wit. Life itself, on its passive side, is little more than the record of what finds expression in these varied moods, and that its reflection may be the more faithfully returned in these poems, I have arranged them on a new principle. I have endeavoured to give them a sort of dramatic propriety by making them correspond, or at least roughly correspond, to the different stages of human experience. In each of the four books the poems pertaining to childhood and youth come first, and animal joy, passion, and pleasure are the themes. Next come poems of a more mingled yarn and in more diverse keys, expressive of the experiences of manhood. Then serious reflection begins to predominate, till
About the rim
Scull-things in order grim
Grow out in graver mood, obey the sterner stress,
and the note is elegiac till death closes the scene on