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Nine years ago this month this work was commenced, principally to while away the long winter evenings, which threatened to hang heavily on the Editor's hands, and now it is with feelings akin to those felt at parting with an old and valued friend that he pens these prefatory lines, which mark the completion of his task.
It has been his aim to present a comprehensive collection--an ENCYCLOPÆDIA, in fact of the best poetry in the English language; one that will be a welcome companion at every FIRESIDE; and, while representing all that is best and brightest in our poetic literature, should contain nothing that would tend to undermine any one's faithi or destroy a single virtuous impulse.
Fully aware of the danger of trusting to the caprices or fancies of any individual judgment, the Editor has diligently consulted the works of the best critics and reviewers, and has not hesitated to accept such pieces as have received their united commendation, or such as, through some peculiar power, have touched the popular heart. Each poem has been given complete, and great care has been taken to follow the most authentic and approved editions of the respective authors; and though the quantity of space assigned to each and the selections made may not, and probably will not, satisfy every judgment, it is believed that few of the most famous minor poems of the English language will be found missing from these pages.
At the very outset it was deemed best to discard the chronological arrangement followed by most compilers, and to adopt the plan of classifying each poem according to its subject matter, originated by Mr. Charles A. Dana in his excellent Household Book of Poetry. In many cases this has been found exceedingly difficult; as often, under-currents so run in opposite directions as to threaten the entire foundation upon which the title of a poem is based ; and in many poems the “moral” is dwelt on at greater length than the tale itself, so that the Editor has often been sorely tempted to end his perplexity by throwing them into those convenient "olla podridas,” “ Poems of Sentiment” and “Moral and Didactic Poetry.” But with all these drawbacks the advantages of the system are so great that there has been no hesitation in adopting it. By it, every taste may be gratified, all moods and humors the better served.
“Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs ” for Sunday reading, Poems of Home Life and Domestic Bliss for the cold winter nights when the logs are blazing brightly on the cozy hearth, Poems on Nature for the bloom
ing Spring-time and melancholy Autumn, Poems for the lover, and Historical Poems, Old Legends, and Ballads for all. From the days when
Adam delved and Eve span” to the present, human nature has been ever the same. Kingdoms have risen and been forgotten, languages been formed and fallen into disuse, but love, patriotism, sorrow and death, are the same in all ages and climes. The language may
be different and the allusions seem strange to our ears, but the same old, old story was told by gallant knight to high-bred dame in the good old days of Queen Bess as is now whispered into the ear of rustic beauty or ball-room belle.
" Each heart recall’d a different name, but all sang' Annie Laurie.'” The same impulses animated Horatius as he faced Lars Porsena's army on the banks of the Tiber centuries ago, and the brave boys who fucked to their country's standard during the late civil war; while the bereaved parent even now mourns for his erring child in the same heart-language as did the sweet Singer of Israel over his lost Absalom. Though long cycles have intervened between Shakespeare and Tennyson, Sir Walter Raleigh and Longfellow, Herrick and Burns, Herbert and Whittier, rare Ben Jonson and Mrs. Browning, one animating purpose breathes alike through the voices of the poets of the past and the present.
As many poems are founded upon some historical fact or some interesting incident or legend, a knowledge of which greatly aids the reader in his appreciation of them, Explanatory and Corroborative Notes have been appended at the end of the volume. This plan has been adopted in preference to placing the notes at the bottom of the page; as many readers, who are familiar with their substance, naturally object to such an arrangement as distracting their attention and marring the continuity of the poem.
The compiler would express his thanks to the various authors and publishers who have so kindly permitted him to use the copyright poems contained in this collection, and especially to Messrs. Houghton, Osgood & Co., who, notwithstanding that they publish excellent works of a similar character, generously granted the use of the various poems by Longfellow, Whittier, Emerson, Lowell, Holmes, Bret Harte, Saxe, Bayard Taylor, Stedman, Stoddard, Trowbridge, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Parsons, Lucy Larcom, Julia Ward Howe, and Phæbe Cary, the brightest galaxy of names ever collected together by any American publishing-house. He would also acknowledge his obligation to Mr. N. Clemmons Hunt for the assistance rendered in the selection and arrangement of many of the poems in this work. .
Originality cannot be claimed for a work of this character, notwithstanding the labor and thought bestowed upon it; all the glory, all the praise, belongs to the poets themselves. In the words of Montaigne: “Here is a nosegay of culled flowers, to which I have brought nothing of my own but the thread that ties them.”
11. T. C. PHILADELPHIA, October 18th, 1878.