Page images

In the prefatory note of the first edition of this work (1891) the Editor invited criticism with a view to the improvement of future editions. Several critics responded to this appeal, and their valuable suggestions have been considered in preparing this re-issue. In some cases the text has been revised and the selection varied; in others, additions have been made to complete the representation. The biographi. cal and bibliographical matter has been brought up to date.-A. H. M.



[blocks in formation]

"HIS work aims to be an Encyclopædia of Modern

Poetry, covering the area of Greater Britain and the limits of the Nineteenth Century. Its plan is to represent each poet in the variety of his work, giving such biographical data and such criticism as may serve to illustrate it.

The poets of the century are taken to be, not only those who may be gazetted, ultimately, as poets of all time, but also those who, during a remarkable period of energy and development, have represented in poetic form the faiths and doubts, the hopes and fears, of the great heart of humanity which has throbbed through the generations, the time beat of the song of liberty and the march of progress.

That there have been poets who have never written verse, will be scarcely questioned; since from Aristotle's day to our own it has been ad. mitted that poetry may be produced by writers who do not write in metrical form. Be this as it may, the prose poets, like the “ tone poets," are beyond the scope of this work; but for the rest, it has been held that the occasional verse of successful prose writers has, when of sufficient excellence, a title to a place within its pages.

The poets selected on these lines have been subjected to a very simple classification. Beginning with



George Crabbe, who may be said to unite the characteristics of two centuries, inspiring the form of the old with the spirit of the new, the main body of the work is devoted to the major poets and those of the minor poets who, addressing themselves to the serious business of life, have endeavoured to represent its varied phases and sought to solve its many problems. With these are included the dramatic poets, as well as those who, having no distinctive message for mankind, still rank as independent poets, and cannot be included under any other classification. Separate volumes are devoted to the work of the women poets of the century,—this being a development of the period, and one of the happiest and most characteristic features of its literature ;-also to the Sacred poets, and to the poets of Society and Humour. The arrangement throughout is chronological; the poets taking their places in order of birth, and, as far as possible and convenient, their poems in order of composition. The earliest date is given in each case where dates are known, and their publication desirable. In a few cases it has been found necessary to divide the representation and to include the poet in more than one section. The Editor's treatment of Hood may be cited as an example; Hood's serious poems having a place in the main body of the work, and his lighter verse in the volume devoted to Society and Humour.

In making the selections, the Editor has been animated by a desire to do complete justice to the poets concerned. He has therefore aimed at full representation. To under-estimate is an act of injustice, to over-represent is but an error of

discrimination. In the case of writers who have passed away, he has endeavoured to realise what would be their own selection, if, in view of the altered conditions of society, and with a knowledge of modern criticism, they could themselves determine the issue. Living writers have in all cas es been consulted, and the selection of their poetry is the result of conference between Poet, Editor, and Critic.

In determining the space to be allotted to each poet, the Editor has discarded the use of the foot rule. The plan which allows twelve inches to Homer, eleven to Virgil, ten to Dante, and so on, according to individual judgment as to the relative merits of each, is largely mechanical, and, in the opinion of the Editor, ought never to be applied to poetry. Generally speaking, the greater the poet, the less the space he will require to demonstrate his superiority; though of course the mere variety of his poetic energy commands a larger space than that which is devoted to a lesser poet. Other considerations also tend to modify any attempt to allot the pages upon a mechanical basis. There have been poets who have sung sweetly and who deserve remembrance, but whose voices, drowned by the chorus of stronger singers of their own and subsequent times, have failed to charm the public ear, and are listened to only by the few. In such cases fulness is perhaps the only reparation that can be made for tardiness of recognition. There are others who have published volumes which have passed out of print, volumes which contain poetry worthy of perpetuation, poetry which may find proper asylum in a work like this. This applies to the minor poets throughout the work. If some of these are represented at greater length than would seem due, it is on the ground of their inaccessibility elsewhere. A further modification has been necessary in some cases to meet the views of poets or publishers or both. Some allowance must be made, too, for differences of literary style in the articles introducing the selections; and again the measure and quality of the incident in the lives which they record must in some appreciable degree govern the length of the notice. Macaulay and Carlyle could hardly have been expected to take precisely the same space even in saying precisely the same thing; and the short life of Byron was much more full of incidents which must be reckoned in estimating him, than was the long life of Wordsworth.

No pains have been spared to render the text absolutely accurate. Many editions have been compared and the variations noted. Some of these are trifling and unimportant, and probably owe their existence more to the printer than the poet. Most poets, however, have shown some disposition to conciliate criticism, and many, in deference to the judgment of others, have subjected their work to revision, a practice not always attended with success, For the purposes of this work the last editions issued under the supervision of the poets themselves have as a rule been accepted as the standard, but these have been compared with earlier editions, and where, as in the case of Wordsworth, earlier renderings are sometimes selected, the final version of the poet is always given in a note.

The critical and biographical notices in most

« PreviousContinue »