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FROM CHAUCER TO
EDITED, WITH INTRODUCTION
LUCIUS HUDSON HOLT, PH.D.
THE distinctive characteristic of this anthology is the restriction of the number of poets represented with the consequent possibility of including an unusually liberal amount of the work of each author. In consulting anthologies, the present editor has felt that the collections have suffered from the attempt to include selections from all the poets who have risen above mediocrity. Such attempt has in most cases resulted in an inadequate representation of the work of any one author. No reader can feel that from a single poem of a half-dozen stanzas, or even from several short poems, he has gained a fair degree of appreciation of the poetical qualities of an author. Milton's fame does not rest upon L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, and Lycidas, nor Wordsworth's upon Tintern Abbey and the poems of the We are Seven type. To appreciate the position these men rightly occupy in literature, we must have an acquaintance with more of their poetry, we must read and appreciate some of the larger and greater poems that constitute their product. In this belief the editor of the present anthology has limited the number of poets in the period between Chaucer and Browning to those he considers the leading poets, and has thus enabled himself to present, not only the well-known shorter pieces included in all collections, but much of those longer and more important poems which in the final analysis constitute the foundation of the authors' fame.
Any anthology involves judicious selection. That the present one will meet in all respects the varying judgments of all its readers is too much to expect. One person will criticize it for the amount of space devoted to Spenser as compared with that devoted to Chaucer; another will query why Herrick should be allotted so liberal a representation; a third, measuring the number of poems and pages given to the romantic authors, will accuse the editor of having yielded to the spell of the modern. Against such various lines of criticism the editor has little defense to offer. He has tried, within the limits of a single volume, to present a collection of the best and most representative poems of the leading English poets from Chaucer to Browning. He has tried in his selection to approximate the general opinion of those worthiest to judge.
The representation given to one of the poets in particular, Shakespeare, will seem unduly out of proportion to the position he justly has at the head of English literature. Shakespeare, however, is primarily a dramatist, and his greatest poetry is in dramatic form, not to be separated from its context without notable loss of significance. Hamlet's Soliloquy, to one unfamiliar with Hamlet's character and problem, would lose much of its force; Jaques' dissertation on the ages of man needs the forest background, the Duke and his company at their simple meal, and a knowledge of Jaques' character and position to render it vital. The editor has, therefore, after careful consideration, confined the selections from Shakespeare to those pieces which are purely poetical and depend little or not at all upon a dramatic context.
The text in this edition has followed that of the Cambridge editions wherever it has been possible. Many of the brief introductory notes to the separate selections have also been adapted from or taken bodily from the Cambridge editions. The short introductory outline of English poetry is intended merely as a framework in which the reader may conveniently locate the respective poets represented in the anthology. In writing the lives of these twenty-one poets the editor has striven to summarize the most important known facts and to give in a few words a criticism of the work of each poet. In the preparation of the glossary the attempt has been 574285