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the very large number of really noticeable poems, many of which, although in my own estimation vastly better than those of some of the old versifiers whose age and general reputation have secured them a place in this volume, I have been compelled to omit solely from lack of space. The future gleaner in the fields over which I have passed will doubtless find many an ungarnered sheaf quite as well worth preserving as these I have gathered within the scanty limits of my compendium. The rare humorists of our time, especially such poets as Holmes and Lowell, can be only partially represented in these necessarily brief selections.
It may be observed that the three divisions of the book do not strictly correspond to the headings which indicate them, — the first, for instance, beginning before Shakespeare and ending somewhat after Milton. It is difficult to be quite exact in such classifications; and as it seemed desirable to make their number as small as possible, I trust the few leading names mentioned may serve to characterize the periods they accompany with a sufficient degree of accuracy. Pope was doubtless the great master of what is sometimes spoken of as artificial verse, shaping the mould of poetic thought for his own and the succeeding generation ; but as Dryden stands in point of time nearer to the colossal name which closes the first period of English song, he has been chosen as a representative of the second, in connection and contrast with Burns, who, in his vigorous rebound from the measured pomp of rhymed heroics to the sturdiest and homeliest Scottish simplicity, gave to the modern lyric its inspiration, striking for the age the musical pitch of true and tender emotion, as decidedly as Wordsworth has touched for it the key-note of the thoughtful harmonies of natural and intellectual beauty. Tennyson undoubtedly stands at the head of all living singers, and his name might well serve as the high-water mark of modern verse ; but as our volume gives a liberal space to American authorship, I have ventured to let the name of the author of “Evangeline” represent, as it well may, the present poetic culture of our English-speaking people at home and abroad.
While by no means holding myself to a strict responsibility as regards the sentiment and language of the poems which make up this volume, and while I must confess to a large tolerance of personal individuality manifesting itself in widely varying forms of expression, I have still somewhat scrupulously endeavored to avoid in my selections everything which seemed liable to the charge of irreverence or questionable morality. In this respect the poetry of the last quarter of a century, with a few exceptions, has been noteworthy for purity of thought and language, as well as for earnestness and religious feeling. The Muse of our time is a free but profoundly reverent inquirer ; it is rarely found in “the seat of the scorner.” If it does not always speak in the prescribed language of creed and formula, its utterances often give evidence of fresh communion with that Eternal Spirit whose
responses are never in any age or clime withheld from the devout
My great effort has been to make a thoroughly readable book. With this in view I have not given tedious extracts from dull plays and weary epics, but have gathered up the best of the old ballads and short, timeapproved poems, and drawn largely from contemporary writers and the waifs and estrays of unknown authors. I have also, as a specialty of the work, made a careful selection of the best hymns in our language. I am prepared to find my method open to criticism from some quarters, but I have catered not so much for the scholarly few as for the great mass of readers to whose “snatched leisure” my brief lyrical selections would seem to have a special adaptation.
It only remains for me to acknowledge the valuable suggestions and aid I have received from various sources during the preparation of this volume, and especially the essential assistance I have had from LUCY LARCOM of Beverly Farms, to whose services I have before been indebted in the compilation of “Child Life.”
J. G. W. AMESBURY, 9th mo., 1875
NOTE TO REVISED EDITION.
In offering the public a somewhat enlarged edition of the “Songs of Three Centuries"
may be well to say that the closing portion of the collection was never, in some respects, quite satisfactory to the arranger. The time of its preparation was limited, and some things were thus overlooked which would have added to the value of the volume. It was not intended, however, to make a large book, and the fifty or more new poems which now appear, do not greatly swell its size, while they bring the selections down to the present date, carrying out the purpose of the compiler, as indicated in his Preface.