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The reader will comprehend at once that this book was not designed as a Trea sury of imperishable American poems. To make a rigidly eclectic volume would be a diversion, and sometimes I have thought to spend a few evenings in obtaining two thirds of it from pieces named in the critical essays to which the present exhibit is supplementary. In fact, more than one projector of a handbook upon the lines of Palgrave's little classic has adopted the plan suggested, and has paid a like compliment to the texts revised by the editors of " A Library of American Literature.”
But no “Treasury,” however well conceived, would forestall the purpose of this compilation. It has been made, as indicated upon the title-page, in illustration of my review of the poets and poetry of our own land. It was undertaken after frequent suggestions from readers of “Poets of America,” and bears to that volume the relation borne by “ A Victorian Anthology” to “Victorian Poets.” The companion anthologies, British and American, are meant to contain the choicest and most typical examples of the poetry of the English tongue during the years which they cover. The effective rise of American poetry was coincident with that of the Anglo-Victorian. It has been easy to show a preliminary movement, by fairly representing the modicum of verse, that has more than a traditional value, earlier than Bryant's and not antedating the Republic. Again, as the foreign volume was enlarged by the inclusion of work produced since the “ Jubilee Year," so this one extends beyond the course surveyed in 1885, and to the present time. This should make it, in a sense, the breviary of our national poetic legacies from the nineteenth century to the twentieth. Now that it is finished, it seems, to the compiler at least, to afford a view of the successive lyrical motives and results of our first hundred years of song, from which the critic or historian may
derive conclusions and possibly extend his lines into the future.
When entering upon my task, I cheerfully assumed that it would be less difficult than the one preceding it ; for I had traversed much of this home-field in prose essays, and once again, - aided by the fine judgment of a colleague,
while examining the whole range of American literature before 1890. Many poets, however, then not essential to our purpose, are quoted here. More space has been available in a work devoted to verse alone. Other things being equal, I naturally have endeavored, though repeating lyrics established by beauty or association, to make fresh selections. While verse of late has decreased its vogue as compared with that of imaginative prose, yet never has so much of it, good and bad, been issued here as within the present decade ; never before were there so many rhythmical aspirants whose volumes have found publishers willing to bring them out attractively, and never have these tasteful ventures had more assurance of a certain, if limited, distribution. The time required for some acquaintance with them has not seemed to me misspent; yet the work of selection was slight compared with that of obtaining privileges from authors and book-houses, insuring correctness of texts and biographical data, and mastering the countless other details of this presentation. My forbearing publishers have derived little comfort from its successive postponements in consequence of these exigencies and of the editor's ill health. The delay, however, has rounded up more evenly my criticism and illustration of English poetry, carrying to the century's end this last volume of a series so long ago projected.
The anthologist well may follow the worker in mosaic or stained-glass, to better his general effects. Humble bits, low in color, have values of juxtaposition, and often bring out to full advantage his more striking material. The representation of a leading poet is to be considered by itself, and it is a pleasure to obtain for it a prelude and an epilogue, and otherwise to secure a just variety of mood and range. I have allotted many pages to the chiefs reviewed at chapter-length in “Poets of America,” yet even as to these space is not a sure indication of the compiler's own feeling. An inclusion of nearly all the effective lyrics of Poe, and of enough of Emerson to show his translunary spirit at full height, still left each of these antipodal bards within smaller confines than are given to Longfellow, - the people's “ artist of the beautiful" through half a century of steadfast production, or to Whittier - the born balladist, whose manner and purport could not be set forth compactly. Similar disproportions may appear in citation from poets less known, the effort being to utilize matter best suited to the general design. Time is the test of all traditions, even those of one's own propagating. We still canonize as our truest poets men who rose to eminence when poetry overtopped other
literary interests, and whose lives were devoted to its production. Yet there was an innocent tyranny in the extension of the prerogative accorded to the “elder poets ” throughout the best days of a worshipful younger generation. The genius of new-comers might have been more compulsive if less overshadowed, and if less subject to the restrictions of an inauspicious period - that of the years immediately before and after the Civil War. Their output I have exhibited somewhat freely, as seemed the due of both the living and the dead. To the latter it may be the last tribute by one of their own kith and kin ; to all, a tribute justly theirs whose choice it was to pursue an art upon which they had been bred and from its chiefs had learned beauty, reverence, aspiration, - but which they practised almost to alien ears. Not only their colleagues, but those that should have been their listeners, had perished, North and South. To the older members of this circle, those born in the twenties, and thus falling within the closing division of the First Period, - even too little space has been allotted : the facts being that not until the Second Period was reached could an estimate be formed of the paging required for the entire book, and that then the selections already in type could not be readjusted.
A veteran author, Dr. English, recalls an assurance to the editor of American compilations famous in the day of Poe and the “Literati," that "his sins," much as he had incurred the wrath of the excluded, “were not of omission but of commission.” Dr. Griswold performed an historical if not a critical service; he had a measure of conscience withal, else Poe would not have chosen him for a literary executor. But if this anthology were modelled upon his “Poets and Poetry of America " it would occupy a shelf of volumes. I have not hesitated to use any fortunate poem, howsoever unpromising its source. A ruby is a ruby, on the forehead of a Joss or found in the garment of a pilgrim. Here and there are included Terses by masterful personages not writers by profession, and the texts of hymns, patriotic lyrics, and other memorabilia that have quality. As befits an anthology, selections mostly are confined to poems in their entirety, but the aim is to represent a poet variously and at his best ; sometimes this cannot be achieved otherwise than by extracts from long poems, - by episodes, or other passages effective in themselves. The reader will find but a few extended Odes other than Lowell's Commemoration Ode and Stoddard's majestic monody on Lincoln, either of which it would be criminal here to truncate. In the foreign compendium there was little to present in the dramatic form, and that not often of a high order ; from this
volume dramatic dialogue - regretfully in cases like those of Boker and Taylor - is excluded altogether, with the exception of an essential specimen in the prefatory division ; but lyrical interludes from dramas are not infrequent. As to sonnets, one often finds them the most serviceable expression of a minor poet. The sonnets of two or three Americans take rank with the best of their time, but I have tried to avoid those of the everyday grade. Finally, whatsoever a poet's standing or the class of selections, my tests are those of merit and anthological value, and the result should be judged accordingly. There is no reception more distrustful, not to say cynical, than that awarded nowadays to a presentment of the artistic effort of one's own time and people. An editor must look upon in the nature of things, happy if he can persuade his readers to use their own glasses somewhat objectively. With regard to a foreign field personal and local equations have less force, and to this no doubt I owe the good fortune that thus far little exception has been taken to the selection and range of material used for “A Victorian Anthology."
This brings to mind a departure in the following pages from the divisional arrangement of the last-named compilation. Essaying almost every method of setting forth our own poets, I found it impossible to follow the one which before had worked so aptly. A chronological system proved to be not merely the best, but seemingly the only one, applicable to my new needs.
The ease wherewith the British record permitted a classified arrangement was a pleasure to the orderly mind. It crystallized into groups, each animated by a master, or made distinct by the fraternization of poets with tastes in common. Whether this betokened an advanced or a provincial condition may be debatable, and the test of any “set” doubtless involves the measure of self-consciousness. Surveying the formative portion of the Victorian era it was easy to find the Roisterers, the Poets of Quality, the several flocks of English, Scottish, and Irish minstrels, the Rhapsodists, the Humanitarians, all preceding the composite idyllic school that with Tennyson at its head. With and after Tennyson came the renaissance of the Preraphaelites, and also new balladists, song-writers, a few dramatists, the makers of verse-a-la-mode, and so on to the time's end. From all this, distinct in the receding past, it was possible to map out a cartograph as logical as the prose survey which it illustrates. But when the latter-day verse. makers were reached, an effort to assort them had to be foregone, and not so
much from lack of perspective as because, with few exceptions, they revealed more traits in common than in differentiation. It would be too much to expect that subsequent to the Victorian prime and the going out of its chief luminaries there should not be an interval of twilight - with its scattered stars, the Hespers of the past, the Phosphors of a day to come. The earlier groups were discernible, and reviewed by me, in their full activity; at present, when prose fiction, instead of verse, is the characteristic imaginative product, it is not hard to point out its various orders and working-guilds.
A derogatory inference need not be drawn from the failure of attempts to classify the early and later singers of our own land. Poetry led other forms of our literature during at least forty years, — say from 1835 to 1875. Nevertheless, like many observers, I found scarcely a group, except that inspired by the Transcendental movement, of more import than an occasional band such as the little set of “ Croakers ” when New York was in its 'teens. With the exception of Poe, the dii majores, as they have been termed, alike were interpreters of nature, sentiment, patriotism, religion, conviction, though each obtained mark by giving accentuated expression to one or two of these fundamental American notes. With the added exceptions of Whitman and Lanier, and of Lowell in his dialect satire, the leaders' methods and motives have had much in common, and the names excepted were not initiative of “schools.” There were a few exemplars, chiefly outside of New England, of the instinct for poetry as an expression of beauty, and of feeling rather than of the convictions which so readily begat didacticism; yet for decades the choir of minor poets have pursued their art in the spirit of the leaders and have availed themselves of the same measures and diction.
Variances of the kind arising from conditions of locality and atmosphere have always been apparent. An approach can be made to a natural arrangement by geographical division somewhat upon the lines of Mr. Piatt's illustrated quarto, in which the lyrics and idylls of the Eastern States, the Middle, the Southern, the regions of the Middle West and the Pacific Slope, are successively exhibited. Until of late, however, the population and literature of the country were so restricted to the Atlantic seaboard that this method excites a sense of disproportion none the less unpleasing for its fidelity to the record. Thus by a process of exclusion the one satisfactory order proved to be the chronological ; this being of the greater value since national evolution is more fully reflected in the poetry of