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COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY W. A. NEILSON AND K. G. T. WEBSTER
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The Riverside Press
PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.
The aim in the present volume, as in the other issues of the series, has been, not to compile a mediæval anthology of choice poems and passages, but to represent fully and where possible by complete works, all the chief poets of the period covered. The selections have been made and the apparatus furnished with a view to arousing the interest and satisfying the curiosity of the general reader and the student of literature rather than of language. Care has indeed been taken to provide trustworthy texts, and the book should not be without value to those seeking to extend their knowledge of Middle English and Middle Scots ; but the glosses supplied in the footnotes are full enough to make possible the enjoyment of the poems by readers without special acquaintance with the earlier stages of the language. In the case of some of the more difficult of the alliterative poems, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Pearl, and Piers Plowman, the amount of glossary required was so great that it seemed that our purpose would be better served by a literal translation than by footnotes so numerous as to make continuous reading all but impossible. Precisely how faithful these renderings are, the reader can judge for himself by comparing the translations with the specimens of the originals printed at the beginning of the two first-named poems.
No apology need be made for including a generous selection from the traditional ballads. Their authors, if they had authors in the strict sense, are indeed not among the “Chief Poets,” nor are they all by any means to be assigned to the two centuries with which we are here concerned ; but in a series which, it is hoped, will cover the whole field of English poetry, it would be preposterous to neglect a type which is one of its glories ; and, in point of chronology, the ballads fit this volume as well as any. They belong to the folk, and the taste of the folk has little relation to the conventional periods into which literary history is divided.
A notable feature of the collection is the prominence given to the Scottish poets of the period. Partly on account of the political separation of England and Scotland, partly through an exaggerated sense of the difficulty of the dialect, students of English literature have unduly neglected these writers. Yet after a few peculiarities in spelling have been noted, Barbour, for example, is as easy as Chaucer; and in the matter of poetic quality none of Chaucer's English disciples is the equal of Henryson or Dunbar. The latter, it is true, is often mentioned if seldom read ; but it is doubtful whether there is in the whole of English literature a case of neglected genius so remarkable as that of Henryson. This book will justify itself if it does no more than make accessible and call attention to poetry of so much interest and distinction.
In the choice of poets and poems to be included we have been greatly aided by many of our colleagues in the universities of the United States, so many that only a general acknowledgment can be made of the obligations under which their generosity has placed us. For the final decisions, as well as for whatever faults in judgment and scholarship the book may contain, the editors are jointly responsible. Mr. Webster translated the Gawain and the Pearl, Mr. Neilson Piers Plowman, but each has had the opportunity to revise and criticize, so that the credit or discredit must be shared in common.
W. A. N.
K. G. T. W. CAMBRIDGE, 1916.