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THE object proposed in the present compilation is twofold. Firstly, to furnish as subjects for reading-lessons copious selections from our greatest writers in all the principal forms of poetry; and, secondly, to arrange them in such a way that they may serve as materials for studies in poetical criticism.
Most of our present reading-books consist of short extracts from a comparatively large number of writers. That these selections are frequently very well chosen, and that they contain striking beauties, is incontestable ; but, at the same time, it is certainly true that they seldom impress the reader with a very just notion of the general manner and style of the poet, and that they are always too fragmentary to create much interest in the mind of the young reader. But it will surely be admitted, that in the cultivation of our literature, there are two points of the greatest importance: viz. to place models of excellence before the mind of the student, and to give him an opportunity of acquainting himself with the great masters of our literature sufficiently to be able to distinguish their
beauties, criticise their defects, and learn to appreciate them according to their respective merits.
In accordance with these general views, the compiler has here furnished the young student of English literature with models of the principal forms of English poetry: viz. the Epic, Dramatic, Lyric, Didactic, and Descriptive.
For this purpose, as the finest specimen of our Epic poetry, the first four books of Milton's "Paradise Lost" have been chosen.
The Dramatic specimens are all from Shakspere ; and these have been selected with a due regard to variety of subject. 1. The Tempest (a romantic drama). 2. Macbeth (a tragedy). 3. King John (a history); and, 4. The Merchant of Venice (a comedy).
As models of Lyric poetry, a sufficient number of the odes of Gray and Collins is given to impress the manner and style of these poets upon the young reader.
Pope's "Essay on Man," and "Essay on Criticism," with some copious extracts from Cowper, illustrate the Didactic form, while Thomson's "Winter," and Goldsmith's "Deserted Village" and "Traveller," furnish examples of Descriptive English poetry.
It may be proper here to mention, that the text has been, throughout, scrupulously weeded of every expression which could offend the most fastidious delicacy; and every means adopted, in the way of explanatory notes and illustrations, to assist the reader to a proper understanding of the difficult passages, proper names, classical allusions, &c. which occur in the course of the book.
Strikingly beautiful passages are printed in italics; and to the end of each book, act, or division of the Poetry, is appended a list of Examination Questions, the answers to which may be either written, or repeated vivá voce. These questions might also occasionally furnish subjects for exercises in English composition, for which they are well adapted: this, of course, at the discretion of the teacher.