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less sure, though more delicate and imperceptible, in the growth and accomplishment of the mind, and in enabling the pupil to acquire a habit of expressing his own thoughts in easy, idiomatic, and forcible language.
Such is the object of the present work. It embraces rich specimens of poetry in the English language, from the father of English verse, down to the present time; and it is confidently believed, that the gradual study of this volume cannot fail to aid essentially in producing that just and delicate perception and enjoyment of the excellence of poetry in general, and of the respective merits of individual poets, which at present is an accomplishment so rarely to be found. It is hoped that an edition of Paradise Lost may soon be published, with notes sufficiently copious and plain to make that likewise a book of study and keen relish, where it is now unknown, or only ignorantly admired and wondered at.
The Editor had intended at first to prefix to this volume a short and plain sketch of the early rise and progress of English poetry, from the period during which it formed the only ray of intellect in the English nation, till it became incorporated as an original and prominent part of our native literature, and to trace particularly the progressive changes in its moral character. Upon consideration, it was found that such a history must exclude either the notices of biography and criticism entirely, or a good part of the poetical specimens. Should it hereafter be judged fit, such a sketch may be prepared in another volume, or introduced into a second edition of this.
It is believed that one great excellence of this book will be found in the purity of its moral influence. It has been the endeavour of the Editor, not only to exclude from these pages every poem and every line which might be injurious or even doubtful in its tendency, but to give them a decided tone of piety. Wherever the rare union of a religious and poetical spirit could be found, he has eagerly availed himself of his privilege, to select pieces not merely moral in principle, but devotional in feeling. At the same time there will be observed a great degree of variety in the character of his selections,
from the deeply pathetic and devotional, to the humorous and droll; for it has been his object to present, if possible, a specimen from every good department, in the whole range of poetical subjects.
He has also endeavoured, for the benefit and instruction of the pupil, to characterize as minutely as might be in his critical remarks, the moral qualities and merits of each poet. A very difficult task, and one which perhaps he has not performed as rigidly as could be wished. The poets have hitherto been almost a privileged people so far as it may be considered a privilege to transgress the dictates of piety without reproach. Wherever they have not been guilty of outrageous license, their inaccuracies in morality have been passed by as matters of course; and many a sentiment has been admitted almost with applause in a line of elegant poetry, which would have been rejected with strong censure had it appeared in plain prose. This fact makes the impious or immoral poet far more criminal, and should make the virtuous reader more anxiously watchful;—watchful lest under the garb of innocent and cultivated pleasure, he receive into his bosom what, in the strong language of scripture, will bite like a serpent, and sting like an adder.
It was the Editor's intention to have added to a sketch of the history of poetry, a plan for poetical reading and study; but the judicious care of an instructer will make such a work needless. Of the higher poets, Spenser, Milton, Thomson, Collins, Goldsmith, Gray, Cowper, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Campbell, and notwithstanding his inequalities, Young, are those whose works the pupil should study with diligence, to form and sustain a perfectly pure and elevated taste. These are to be studied; but without excluding the poets who may perhaps be ranked together in a second class, such as Rogers, Scott, Grahame &c, whose writings are so beautiful, that they may always be perused with benefit and pleasure; though at the same time they do not possess that character of profound and elevated genius, which belongs preeminently to the former. An intellectual relish thus formed and supported, will be the source of more exquisite delight as well as virtuous feeling, (which indeed is in itself the sublimest pleasure,) than if the mind possessed an infinite range of mingled
and many coloured poetry, to dip into with superficial haste. A taste so cultivated will be in no danger of perversion from that which is immoral or unnatural in its character; for it will reject such with instinctive disgust. A mind imbued with the spirit of the noble writers who have just been mentioned, will expel one or two of the most celebrated modern poets, and some likewise of the ancient, entirely from its collection, without any regret, except for the melancholy waste of genius; since it will scarcely love the most beautiful poetry, if that be dark with passion, or uninfused with pure and affectionate thought.
The Editor would be sorry to hear it objected to his book, that its contents are above the capacity of those, for whom particularly it is intended; for such a remark would indicate but a poor conception of the business and purposes of education. It is his object, as far as possible, in so short a compass, to form and elevate the taste and judgment of his youthful readers; and such an object could hardly be gained by giving them a volume of extracts exactly on a level with their present attainments. He has accordingly, in making his selections, been guided exclusively by the desire of having their poetical and moral spirit as intense and pure as possible; whatever might be the depth of understanding, the refinement of wisdom, or the richness of philosophy displayed in them. If any piece be found which the pupil cannot comprehend, it is the duty of the instructer to explain its meaning, and teach the youthful mind to appreciate its beauty.
Besides this, it was intended that the volume should be found suitable for a parlour companion, and full of enjoyment to the man of genius and taste, in bringing again to his view the delightful passages he has so often dwelt upon with pleasure.
The book opens with an extract from Chaucer, because it was thought proper to give the pupil a view of English Poetry from its very commencement. The extract from Allan Ramsay is introduced rather for the intellectual pleasure of the reader, and as a curious specimen of the Scotch poetic dialect, than as an exercise in reading aloud, for which its Scotticisms will perhaps render it unsuitable.
It will not be unacceptable to persons acquainted with the merits of those authors, to observe that such poets as Grahame and Bloomfield, occupy in this selection, a place which has been too long usurped by writers inferior to them, both in poetical and moral excellence.
The extracts are continued down to the present day, embracing the most excellent among the poets of the United States; and it is believed that the selections from them will be found scarcely inferior in interest and excellence to those in any part of the volume.
In regard to the addition from the Hebrew poets, the Editor has no apology to make, for it cannot but be of value; he must however say, in justice to himself, that he did not think of it, till the first part of the volume was already in press, and therefore was unable to spend upon it either the time or the labour which he could have desired. Yet he was unwilling to omit what he considered so great an improvement on the plan of the work; and only regrets that circumstances would not suffer him to finish this, the pleasantest part of his labour, with the care which he deemed requisite. The extracts from the book of Job are from the translation of the Rev. George R. Noyes, by whose kindness the editor was also favoured with a few beautiful specimens from his manuscript translation of the Psalms.
Most of the sheets in this volume were printed while the Editor was absent at such a distance as rendered it impossible to have them submitted to his own inspection. A few errors have occurred, in regard to which he solicits the caution and correction of the "benevolent reader."-Page 131, last line-for oftier read loftier.-Page 142, line 16-for halved read haloed.-Page 160, last line-for ess read less.-Page 182, line 32-for rememberance read remembrance. -Page 191, line 27-for Katerfelto read Katterfelto.-Page 223, line 14-for Illissus read Ilissus.-Page 238, 5th line from bottom,for annointed read anointed.-Page 239, line 18-for infant read infant's.-Page 322, line 9th from bottom, and Page 324, line 24.— for Lock read Loch.-Page 332, line 3d from bottom, for or read our. Page 395, 4th line from bottom, for not read nor.-Page 70, line 1st, for kercheft read kerchieft.