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THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY 5 6 1 2 3 7
ASTOR, LENOX AND
FOR H. M. STATIONERY OFFICE. PRINTED BY G. & J. CRIERSON, HER MAJESTY'S PRINTERS.
See, I have culled the flowers that promised best;
In the compilation of this work an attempt has been made to combine several important objects. The value of selections of good poetry for the use of schools in cultivating the taste, improving the moral character, and awakening a desire for the acquisition of useful knowledge, has been fully appreciated by the most eminent authorities on the education of youth. It has been justly observed by Miss Aiken, that “the magic of rhyme is felt in the very cradle—the mother and the nurse employ it as a spell of soothing power. The taste for harmony, the poetical ear, if ever acquired, is so almost during infancy. The flow of numbers easily impresses itself on the memory, and is with difficulty erased. By the aid of verse, a store of beautiful imagery and glowing sentiment may be gathered up as the amusement of childhood, which in riper years may beguile the heavy hours of languor, solitude, and sorrow; may enforce sentiments of piety, humanity, and tenderness; may soothe the soul to calmness, rouse it to honourable exertion, or fire it with virtuous indignation.'
These correct views of the advantages and pleasure which the great majority of persons derive from reading genuine poetry, are enforced at greater length in the following extract from Mr. James Gray's interesting life of Robert Fergusson, the Scottish poet: “ Works of philosophy and science," says this biographical writer, “ are only the study of a few superior minds, but the productions of imagination are perused by men of every description. The learned and the ignorant, the grave and the gay, the young and the old, find something attractive in the varied pages of the
inspired bard. Hence is the tendency of such effusions of the utmost importance in forming the taste, and cultivating the moral perceptions, especially of the youthful mind. A heroic spirit has been roused by a patriotic song, a hard and proud mind softened to sympathy by a powerful representation of fictitious distress. The distant wanderer, restored to his native scenes by a lively description, has blessed the poet's pen; the solitary thoughts of the invalid have been transported to green fields and cooling streams, and his languid ear charmed with the woodland song; even the pious soul is awakened to a more exalted feeling of devotion by the divine strains of the inspired minstrel.
“The pleasure we derive from the works of the poet naturally leads us to reflect on his character; we feel more acquainted with him than with authors of a different description; and it is only in him that we not only allow egotism, but perhaps feel most interested when he speaks of himself. We feel the deepest sympathy in Milton's blindness; in reading Cowper, we delight in the sweet shades of Olney, and wish we could take a seat on the sofa and participate in the intellectual conversation of its drawing-room. Can a Scotsman think of Burns repeating the Cotter's Saturday-night' to his brother Gilbert, when returning from a hard day's labour at the plough, without a proud feeling that he belongs to a country that could produce such a peasant? How much do we lament that we know so little of Shakspeare, who knew so much of us all ; whose living scenes could depict every human heart, and lay open its inmost feelings; whose portraits represent the concealed villain in his native colours, till the resemblance awakens the anguish of remorse; whose wild imagery transports us to a different region of existence; whose tenderness softens the hardest, whose sublimity exalts the lowest, and whose humour rouses the most torpid mind!”
Concurring in the opinion that poetry, judiciously selected, produces the beneficial results so clearly de:scribed in the foregoing extracts, and that it may be rendered subservient to important purposes in the in
struction of youth, the compiler of the selections contained in the present volumes has arranged in a popular and attractive form, a series of the most finished specimens of the British poets from Chaucer to the present time. It will be observed, that an effort has been made to increase the value of this work, by directing the attention of the reader to the great productions of our early literature, which it has been too much the fashion to regard with coldness and indifference, amidst, the more showy and superficial effusions of many modern poets. The compiler has also deemed it right to avail himself of the rich treasures which the poetical literature of the Continent and of America so abundantly affords. Many of the most interesting specimens are, therefore, taken from the poetical works of America, Germany, and France. A preference has been given, in all cases, to those productions which are calculated to lay the foundation of a refined taste, to convey some useful truth, to implant a love for virtue, and to inspire devotional feelings.
The plan of the work combines with the order of time a division of subjects. This system has been generally adopted in our old collections of poetry for the use of schools. It is unquestionably open to the objection, that the selections cannot be invariably placed under their appropriate classifications. The subjects of poetical compositions run so much into each other, that several different kinds are often unavoidably embodied in the same 'piece. This method, however, has its peculiar advantages. It has enabled the compiler of the present volumes to exhibit, in several hundreds of specimens, the various beauties of style and sentiment of the same authors in writing upon the same subject, and to present his readers with facilities for tracing the progress of our language and literature.
The poetical selections have been divided under the following heads : SACRED, DIDACTIC, and MORAL; DESCRIPTIVE, with several subdivisions, comprising PastoRAL, the SEASONS and MONTHS; NATURAL PHENOMENA; CHARACTERS; NATURAL HISTORY, including Flowers and Plants, Birds, Insects, and Animals; NARRATIVE and
PATHETIC; ELEGIAC and LYRIC ; together with a few select poems on the DOMESTIC and SOCIAL AFFECTIONS, and on the LOVE OF HOME AND COUNTRY. It was in tended to insert a limited number of Dramatic Dialogues, and of amusing extracts from the Comic poets, but it was found impracticable to carry out this comprehensive plan without enlarging the work much beyond the prescribed limits. It therefore closes with a small collection of Sonnets from the best of our English poets.
The INTRODUCTIONS, prefixed to each division, are designed to explain the different species of poetry, and to give a brief account of those great masters of the art, in whose works the various forms of poetical composition have been most successfully exemplified. It is hoped that these explanatory prefaces will supply the teachers with much useful and interesting information respecting the nature and character of English poetry; that the numerous quotations given from celebrated authors will add to their store of literary information; and that they may be thereby induced to consult the original productions of our standard writers.
The first volume of the work is devoted almost ex clusively to Sacred, Moral, and Didactic poetry. The examples selected under these departments have been taken from authors entertaining various theological opi. nions. The primary object in compiling so many pieces of a serious character has been to make strong reli, gious impressions on the youthful mind, without introducing topics that might be offensive to the members of any religious communion. The second volume presents a wider range of subjects than the first, and will afford a greater variety of instruction. The application of Natural History to poetry can be rendered emi: nently useful as an important ingredient in the edu. cation of youth. It has, therefore, been thought desirable to place under this head many interesting selections.
Descriptions of the seasons; the revolutions of day and night; the sublime phenomena of nature; the charms of beautiful scenery; the various occupations and modes of life; the social and domestic affections ; the love of fatherland; portraits of eminent characters;