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A SELECTION of poetry needs an apology, if not a justification, and I think I shall offer both if I say that this book has not been compiled for either of the two classes now so liberally supplied. It is intended neither for children, nor for men and women of mature minds, but for the intermediate class which may be described as the young The distinguishing feature of such a selection ought, I believe, to be a greater breadth than would be desirable for childhood, or tolerated by persons of mature taste and judgment. It should make provision for the discursiveness of thought and feeling natural to youth, and should satisfy the craving for quantity which is a passion in the young, and which sometimes seems to require for its satisfaction nothing beyond the “majesty and pomp of diction and the mellifluous flow of rhymes.”
I have, therefore, whilst inserting much that is highest and best in English poetry, not felt it necessary to reject many of those mere compositions in metre which yet touch the hearts and call out the enthusiasm of the young. By giving to the young nothing beside the best, we cultivate a taste that is fastidious rather than refined, -we teach them rather to reject the evil than to choose the good. True refinement enables us to assimilate the true, the good, and the beautiful, wherever we may find them ; but a fastidious taste is negative only, and causes us to reject all that is best and highest, if it is not presented in the fairest form.
Many who are pure and simple and true of heart seek only the echo of these qualities in the poetry they love : I see no reason for refusing the milk to these babes, who may by means of it some day digest the strong meat, food for a man. Moreover, education means development, not repression. It should never be allowed to degenerate into the art of keeping back and holding under the nature and disposition and feelings of the young. The first leaves of the plant wither and die,-are, indeed, of lower organisation than those that succeed, but they are not, therefore, useless, and it would be a fatal mistake to destroy them. To those who are impatient for the harvest, even blossoms may seem an unnecessary frivolity,-- but then we can get no fruit without them. We must have faith in the young soul as in the young plant, and be content to see it pass through stages of growth and development, of which we do not always see the meaning or the end.
We need not fear that the opinions of the young will remain unchanged, for it is only those who have lived a youth without enthusiasm,—that is, without poetry, who can attain to a maturity without reflection, and can go through life with opinions unchanged.
Perhaps it is not so necessary to justify my book as a selection of poetry, as to plead for its acceptance as an educational work. I think that the young should learn poetry by heart in every stage of education ; that poetry should be carefully studied with reference both to its form or music, and its meaning ; that, for the sake of these, both teacher and pupil should strive to attain to the greatest purity and precision in pronunciation; and that dramatic poetry should be used to break up the monotony into which recitation and reading are apt to fall. I have dwelt on these points in the preface to “The Poet's Hour,” and therefore only allude to them here.
But there are other and higher grounds upon which the careful study of poetry should be advocated. The education of this age has a tendency to “inspire selfconceit and self-will by fostering vanity.” It is an education crowned by an examination and a certificate; that is, by a temporal advantage and a visible success. Indeed, there are some schemes in which intellect and intellectual cultivation are all in all ; love of nature and humanity, and reverence for God find but scanty recognition, or are eliminated as troublesome superfluities. It seems to be no longer true that “heaven lies about us in our infancy;" for the manifest tendency of the age is to bring “the world,” that is, the temporal and visible, to the very cradles of our children, to cultivate intellectual activity rather than thought, and to make of man a “purblind Argus, all eyes and no sight.” Now the poet is he who is first of all remarkable for his love of Nature and love of God ; and poetry, like all true art, is unworldly. It teaches us that the things unseen are the things real, that they are the only realities. It shows us the actions and the thoughts of men elevated and transfigured, and men themselves inspired by a higher and nobler life than the life of this world.
Poetry is thought and emotion transformed into words ; not the only manifestation of thought and emotion, but that which in youth is perhaps the most valuable, and certainly the most accessible. It is the fit nurture of fancy and imagination, — fancy, “which is given to quicken and beguile the temporal part of our nature imagination to incite and support the eternal.”
· Blessings be with them—and eternal praişe,
Who gave us nobler loves and nobler cares
The Poets, who on earth have made us heirs
I have scattered the poetry in this volume as a sower sowing seed. I aim at no classification, and am, indeed, anxious to avoid a historical arrangement of poetry, or anything that could resemble it; though, in making a selection which is to feed the fancy and imagination of the young, and which must include great names and great works, I have been compelled incidentally to travel over the same path as the historian of literature.
Once again I have to express my gratitude to the numerous authors and publishers whose generosity has enabled me to prepare a book enriched by the work of living poets, and possessed, therefore, of an added interest and charm.
My thanks are due to Mr. Tennyson, Mr. Browning, Mr. Keble, Mr. Barnes, Archbishop Trench, Barry Cornwall, and to many other authors and proprietors of copyright pieces; and also to Messrs. Longmans, Murray, Blackwood, Parker, Macmillan, Chapman, and many other publishers.
MARCH 12TH, 1866.
XII.—The Maid of Neidpath. W. Scott.