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STUDENTS IN ENGLISH POETRY.
WITH BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES
OF THE AUTHORS.
BY J. C. M. BELLEW.
Love Poetry! for she is heaven's growth,
She loves thee; never spirit more desired
GEORGE ROUTLEDGE AND SONS,
THE BROADWAY, LUDGATE.
The sense of a want, both in the Library and in the Schoolroom, induced me to undertake the production of this work. There has been a superabundant supply of “Selections,” “ Gems," “ Specimens” of Poetry; but I am not acquainted with any book that meets a need which the education of my own children made me experience.
A Manual, a portable volume, which gives the Student a fair knowledge of the style of our great Poets, which supplies him with the most famous or familiar passages of their works, and, at the same time, prepares his mind for the Poetry by first of all (through the aid of a Biography, introducing him to the Poet, seems to me to have been long required. I am bound to admit there are publications which, in a measure, have done what I endeavour to accomplish ; but they have only strengthened my conviction, that something fuller and more complete was necessary.
The intent has been to produce a volume which, while it can be easily held in the hand for Class purposes, or carried about by the lover of poetry when travelling, will secure a tolerably comprehensive knowledge of the Poetry and Poets of England. In its compilation, the whole “Corpus Poetarum” has been read through, and
the selections have been made irrespective of any existing publications. Those who are familiar with works of this character will at a glance observe a great number of quotations which have never before been similarly introduced.
The materials for the Biographies have not been derived from any given book. Having invariably consulted the "Biographia Britannica” as the worthiest authority, I have noted and used whatever information Johnson's “Lives of the Poets,” or Campbell's, or any similar books provided, which seemed to me to answer my purpose; so that it is to be hoped the information drawn from a variety of sources will be accurate ; and if any errors have crept into my succinct narratives, that they may be of a trifling and unimportant character.
Compression, in dealing with such abundant materials, cannot deprive these Lives of their interest; and condensation of statement is perfectly compatible with accuracy as to facts.
The selections made need some explanation, perhaps apology; for he who undertakes to select what other people shall read vaults on to the judgment-seat, and must expect his judgment to be judged.
First of all, it is manifest, in turning over the pages of the English Poets, that there are many authors who can lay small claim to the consideration of the Student or ordinary reader of the present day; and also that there are others, whose compositions are so greatly tainted with licentiousness, that it cannot be desirable to reproduce them.
My design has been to quote those whose names are familiar to English ears, and of whose works a youth receiving a polite education would be expected to have some knowledge. The list of such authors being com
pleted, I proceeded to study the minor or more obscure Poets, for anything special that might seem to me desirable to be made popular. After that, I read through my “ black list " of authors, whose works it would be impossible to put into the hands of a youth or a school-girl; and I examined their poems, to see what could, with propriety, be used as an illustration of the style adopted by men whose names were sufficiently famous, or notorious, to hold a place in history.
As to the first principle adopted, there can be no difference of opinion. The Poets chiefly omitted are men of that wearisome period when Damon and Chloe Strephon and Daphne,– the Chelsea china of poetrywere the fashion in pastoral verse.
Of this school it may be truly said, “Ex uno disce omnes.” . . In the first half of the eighteenth century there were several writers quite as unengaging. It is questionable whether many, except those whose literary occupations lead them to the study, know even by name, in the present age, such writers as Dyer, Cawthorne, Granger, Lloyd, Smart, Bond, Hart. It can only be the bookworm who grubs among these and many other such like authors. Having toiled through them all, I can bear testimony to the torture and fatigue of the undertaking. Such omissions, therefore, seemed inevitable.
The Poets of the Restoration are a very different class. It is their liveliness, and not their dullness, against which we have to guard. No collection would be tolerably complete that overlooked Sir John Suckling ; but it does not, therefore, seem necessary to introduce Rochester, and Sedley, and many others of the same stamp. My aim has been to select the best authors even of a bad School ; and in the selection, where a poem had attained fame in our literature, to quote it in such form that it shall not give offence. The task has been eminently difficult ; and those who know familiarly the authors of the seven