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careful estimate of our lyrical poetry is at any rate, I feel sure, in a good direction.
There appear in the index of Mr. Stedman's "Poets of America" the names of over three hundred native writers. American verse in the last half century has been extraordinarily prolific. It would seem that the time has come, in the course of our national literature, for proving all things and holding fast that which is good.
The fact that the title of this compilation instantly calls to mind that of Mr. Palgrave's scholarly collection of English lyrics need not prove a disadvantage to the book if the purpose which led to the choice of name is understood. The verse of a single century produced in a new country should not be expected to equal the poetic wealth of an old and intellectual nation. But if American poetry cannot hope to rival the poetry of the mother country, it may at least be compared with it; and the fact of such a comparative point of view will aid rather than hinder the student of our native poetry in estimating its value.
American verse has suffered at the hands both of its admirers and its enemies. Injudicious praise, no less than supercilious contempt, has reacted unfavorably on the fame of our poets. Again and again has some minor versifier been hailed as the "American Keats" or the "American Burns." Really excellent
poets, though distinctly poets of second rank, have been elevated amid the blare of critical trumpets to the company of Wordsworth and Milton. All this is unprofitable and silly. But not much better is the attitude of certain critics who patronize everything in the English language which has been written outside of England. Though America has added leaving Poe out of account no distinctly new notes to English poetry, it has added certainly not a few true ones. A nation need never apologize for its literature when it has produced such lyrics - to go no further as "On a Bust of Dante," "Ichabod," "The Chambered Nautilus," and the "Waterfowl."
My method of arrangement is roughly chronological. The First Book, which is shorter than the others, might be called the book of Bryant; the Second, of Longfellow; and the Third, of Aldrich. Since the periods must of course overlap, this division of the poems can be at most only suggestive.
I have made it no part of my design to grant to the better known poets a larger number of lyrics than those given later and younger men. I have paid no regard to that purely conventional idea of proportion, that would assign to five or six writers a dozen selections each, and to another set of poets, in proportion to their popular fame, half that number. We can safely leave the final adjustment of all
rival claims to Time, the best critic; in the meanwhile having the more modest aim of selecting, irrespective of contemporary judgments, whatever is best suited to our purpose.
A word more should be said about the title. I have not interpreted the term lyric so rigidly as to exclude sonnets, ballads, elegiac verse, or even pieces of almost pure description. If I had held to the strictest sense of lyric, this book would never have been compiled; for I suspect nothing will strike the reader more forcibly than the fact that, despite the excellence of the poems included, there is a notable lack of unconsciousness of pure singing quality. Such things as Pinkney's "Health" and Holmes's "Old Ironsides" are the exception. The poems are composed cleverly, but they do not quite sing themselves to their own music. The best American verse, while not insincere, is seldom wholly spontaneous. This is not saying that much spontaneous verse has not been written in this country; much has been, but the singer's voice has too often been uncultivated, and the product inartistic.
The names of many popular poets are entirely omitted. In no case, however, was this probably due to oversight. I have gone over carefully a wide field of `verse, not without finding much to admire, but never quite happening upon that final touch of successful achievement where art and inspiration join.
I am especially sorry to leave unrepresented a writer - more imaginative, possibly, than any American poet except Poe-whose utter contempt for technique in the ordinary sense places him wholly outside my present purpose.
I wish to acknowledge various favors kindly shown by Professor C. T. Winchester, Professor Barrett Wendell, and Mr. H. E. Scudder. Thanks are also due
Mr. T. B. Aldrich for the privilege of including the six poems from his pen, which were kindly selected for the book by the poet himself. The following firms deserve thanks for permitting the use of copyrighted poems:
Houghton, Mifflin & Co.:
Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Christopher Pearse
Selections from the works of the foregoing writers are included "by permission of and by special ar
rangement with Houghton, Mifflin & Co., publishers of the works of said authors."
D. Appleton & Co.:
Fitz-Green Halleck, William Cullen Bryant.
Lee & Shepard:
Julia Ward Howe.
Porter & Coates:
Charles Fenno Hoffman.
Emily Dickinson, Helen Hunt Jackson, Louise
Copeland & Day:
John Banister Tabb, Richard Hovey.
W. A. Pond & Co.:
Stephen Collins Foster.
Clark & Maynard :
Nathaniel Parker Willis.
The Cassell Publishing Co.:
John Boyle O'Reilly.
The Century Co.:
Richard Watson Gilder, James Whitcomb Riley
(Poems in the Century Magazine).
Estes & Lauriat:
Lamson & Wolffe: