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for the conflict that lies before it. Its higher instincts are drawn out betimes, and an elastic and fearless energy is imparted to them. To confine our attention to a single point : how powerful among the Greeks must not the poetry of Homer have been to develop patriotism ! Why should not the historical plays of Shakespeare have the like influence among our youth? There are, indeed, among us many who are taught by modern traditions to regard their ancestors, alike and their country, as the mere slaves, during whole centuries, of base superstitions and unmitigated corruptions. Separating themselves from the past, and compelled thus to place their pride in the present, or exclusively in recent times, such persons are to a large extent deprived of those reverential and hallowed associations which constitute patriotism in its higher sense. But they whom this modern and self-confident philosophy enthralls not, '-to whom the England of the Edwards and the Henrys, of knights and of crusaders, is still a native place,- they who, however they may be regarded by it, must ever have a country, to which they are united, not by vulgar pride, or sympathy with its material prosperity alone, but by the deepest and holiest bonds of love and reverence,-by what can they more strengthen themselves in patriotic devotion and all loyal service than by the study of that noble poetry which is their country's most ancient heritage and enduring monument ?
Poetry may, indeed, be abused. It is so by readers who are ignorant of its true office, and who assign to it a function yet loftier than that which it can claim. There are many who make poetry a religion, or rather a substitute for religion, and who recognise no other spiritual teaching than that which they find in imaginative literature or art. To such persons poetry quickly becomes what it was once called, vinum demonum. It intoxicates, instead of sustaining; and every thing that it inherits of good is perverted to evil. But.those who hold fast by the great realities of authentic Christianity are secured from such error. They know that all the Arts are but the handmaidens of Faith, the “honourable women” that stand around their Queen and watch her eye; and that in a subor
dinate position alone they can fulfil their office. For such persons Faith occupies a place that is known and defined ; and the half-legendary world of poetic illustration has an inferior region, and must restrict itself within its proper limits. To substitute imagination for faith, and literature for a Divine Teaching, this is at least not the temptation of those who know that there exists a complete supernatural world, of which all that is best in the natural region is but the emblem. Their temptation is of a less dangerous sort. They are apt, in the fruition of higher lights and stronger graces, to forget that in the great scheme of Providence a beneficent influence attaches also to that which holds but a secondary place. The things of faith are, indeed, certain and divine ; but yet, just because they belong to faith, they are withdrawn from sight. It is the office of Christian art to adumbrate what thus remains hidden, and to consecrate sense with some broken beams of that light which properly belongs to the future region of glory. It is a singular and unfortunate thing, that while from religion alone poetry draws all her true treasures, those treasures are sometimes most valued, though wrongly used, by men who know not whence they come. They cling to beautiful shadows with a credulous observance. Those, on the other hand, who have the reality, slight the image. In religious services, and in those treasuries of the beautiful as well as the true, which the piety of ages has accumulated in the liturgical books and other devotional writings, and into which almost every portion of the Sacred Scriptures has been transfused and digested,—the higher and therefore more profoundly poetic minds find often that which renders all merely human literature comparatively indifferent to them. A loss, however, cannot but be sustained by society, if not by the individuals in question, when those by whom alone literature of the highest order can be at once rightly appreciated, and studied without danger, relinquish such pursuits to others less fortunately circumstanced.
It is to meet the needs of the young especially that this compilation from the English poets has been made; but the principle on which its contents have been selected is one which fits the volume for persons of every age and class, provided that in reading poetry they recognise its moral basis and its spiritual aim. It has been too often thought that poetry, to be fitted for the young, should be of an inferior quality. There cannot be a greater mistake. It is the excellence of poetry to be simple; and unless its theme be of too abstract or recondite a character, the best poetry is that which will most recommend itself to the youthful mind and unperverted taste. The present volume has been compiled with the special intention of including in it nothing that is not in the highest sense poetical, as well as of an elevating morality, or at the least of an unequivocal character in this respect. But the moral, like the religious lessons of poetry, are for the most part of an indirect character. It teaches through the Humanities chiefly. Didactic poetry is commonly the least impressive, because it is poetry which has left its proper sphere and assumed duties not its own. Poetry is indicative, not imperative; and it indicates its great moral lessons by avoiding conventionalities, and presenting us thus with the true and lasting relations of things. Its religious teaching is also for the most part of an undogmatic kind, and addresses itself to the heart. In this volume the selections have been made alike from writers of very various opinions and schools. The extracts follow each other in such an order as will assist the reader to understand the progress of English poetry, and its relations with the history of society. The more ordinary principle of arrangement, by which selected poems are classified according to their subjects or forms of construction, is rendered nugatory by the very nature of poetry, which, in its largeness and freedom, breaks beyond the limits of mere artificial distinctions.
EDMOND SPENSER (6. 1553,
terbury Tales", ..... 3 Charissa--Charity .....
Sonnet xxvI. . . . . . .
To his Mistress ...... 10 The Country's Recreations . . 40
His Love admits no Rival.. 40
· Description of Spring. ... 12 The Exiled Duke's Philosophy.
Fidelity . . . . . . . . ..
MARLOW (6. 1562, d. 1593). GILES FLETCHER (d. 1623).
Description of Justice . . . .
Times go by turns ..... 19 The Ascension .....
Matin Hymn ....... 66 To Daffodils . . . . . . .
From the “Virgin Martyr” . . 72 |