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that it has no sort of concern with moral truths, with the subsidiary enforcement and exaltation of practical morality, it is difficult to understand the reason or justness of so arbitrary a law. Poesy, as its original name implies, is, indeed, par excellence, the art of creation and invention. In the larger, and in the best interpretation, however, it means the best thoughts in the best language;' and, according to this modern definition, truth, no less than imagination, must necessarily be of the essence of its highest forms.
The poet, in the exercise of his highest function, is the prophet of his time, and, indeed, of all times: not, in the vulgar sense, predictive, but (if the word may be so used) predicative-not an oracle-monger or a diviner of dreams, but a preacher of truth. It is in this exalted sense that the best poets of modern timesa Shakespeare, a Cowper, and a Shelley--claim so unapproachable a position in comparison with the purely intellectual master-spirits of the old world. *
A very considerable proportion of the world will scarcely even listen to truth unless it be presented to them, as it were by surprise, in the insinuating disguise of fable and fiction. So with poetry, with this difference, that, instead of allegorical insinuation which, after all, must often fail of its mark, a truth in poetry should arise directly and naturally, though incidentally, from the particular subject of the poet, as, notably, in
* An exception may possibly be made in favour of Euripides, who, in some of his works, seems to be conscious of something of the prophetic spirit.
those truly didactic poems, The Seasons and The Task. Tasso has reminded us that
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It is their clear consciousness and recognition of the moral principle which makes every reader of true taste and sensibility prefer the style of Thomson, or Cowper, or Shelley, in their different manners, to the mechanical excellence of Pope, or even to the exquisite but somewhat artificial charms of Byron. In prose fiction, it is this moral purpose which, in actual interest and value, raises the real style of Dickens above the romantic school of Scott; the school of nature and feeling above that of mere art and sentiment.
These remarks may serve at once to explain the principle of the present selection, and as a reason for an addition to the already somewhat extensive catalogue of manuals of English poetry. While, in the first place, it has been attempted to present to the reader all that is most beautiful and sublime in the region of pure poetic fancy, it has also been a principal object to collect, as far as possible, all that is most true and valuable in thought. If for music and melody, of the very essence in fact of their languages, the poetry of old Hellas and of modern Italy, of Homer, Sophokles,
Pindar, Anakreon, of Dante, Ariosto, Tasso, Petrarca, may claim a just pre-eminence; for vigour of thought and expression, for reason and morality, the best English poetry stands alone and unrivalled by that of any age or country. The Anthologia Anglica has been compiled, it may be hardly necessary to add, with special reference to that very numerous class of readers who have not the leisure to search out for themselves the most beautiful and most valuable of the flowers often almost concealed by the very luxuriance of the surrounding vegetation, in the garden of English poetry. If it may prove the humble means of attracting the attention of any to some hitherto overlooked poetic beauties, its object will have been sufficiently accomplished.
The brief notices prefixed to each poet pretend to nothing more than to be epitomes of the principal facts in his literary history, and to serve as some sort of guide to his best productions.
The spelling of Spenser has been modernised in every case except where the occasional exigency of his verse requires the retention of the old orthography, which, to ordinary readers at least, must appear strange or even grotesque. In conclusion, for the permission to use the copyright poems my acknowledgments are due to the courtesy of the respective proprietors.