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SELECTIONS FROM THE ENGLISH POETS,
Ellustrative of those First Requisites of their Art;
WITH MARKINGS OF THE BEST PASSAGES, CRITICAL NOTICES
OF THE WRITERS,
AND AN ESSAY IN ANSWER TO THE QUESTION
"WHAT IS POETRY ?”
BY LEIGH HUNT.
This book is intended for all lovers of poetry and the sister arts, but more especially for those of the most poetical sort, and most especially for the youngest and the oldest: for as the former may incline to it for information's sake, the latter will perhaps not refuse it their good-will for the sake of old favourites. The Editor has often wished for such a book himself; and as nobody will make it for him, he has made it for others.
It was suggested by the approbation which the readers of a periodical work bestowed on some extracts from the poets, commented, and marked with italics, on a principle of co-perusal, as though the Editor were reading the passages in their company. Those readers wished to have more such extracts; and here, if they are still in the mind, they now possess them. The remarks on one of the poems that formed a portion of the extracts (the Eve of Saint Agnes) are repeated in the present volume. All the rest of the matter contributed by him is new. He does not expect, of course, that every reader will agree with the preferences of particular lines or passages, intimated by the italics. Some will think them too numerous; some perhaps too few ; many who chance to take up the book, may wish there had been none at all; but these will have the goodness to recollect what has just been stated,—that the plan was suggested by others who desired them. The Editor, at any rate, begs to be considered as having marked the passages in no spirit of dictation to any one, much less of disparagement to all the admirable passages not marked. If he assumed anything at all (beyond what is implied in the fact of imparting experience), it was the probable mutual pleasure of the reader his companion ; just as in reading out loud, one instinctively increases one's emphasis here and there, and implies a certain accordance of enjoyment on the part of the hearers. In short, all poetic readers are expected to have a more than ordinary portion of sympathy, especially with those who take pains to please them; and the Editor desires no larger amount of it than he gratefully gives to any friend who is good enough to read out similar passages to himself.
The object of the book is threefold ;—to present the public with some of the finest passages in English poetry, so marked and commented ;—to furnish such an account, in an Essay, of the nature and requirements of poetry, as may enable readers in general to give an answer on those points to themselves and others ;—and to show, throughout the greater part of the volume, what sort of poetry is to be considered as poetry of the most poetical kind, or such as exhibits the imagination and fancy in a state of predominance, undisputed by interests of another sort. Poetry, therefore, is not here in its compound state, great or otherwise (except incidentally in the Essay), but in its element, like an essence distilled. All the greatest poetry includes that essence, but the essence does not present itself in exclusive combination with the greatest form of poetry. It varies in that respect from the most tremendous to the most playful effusions, and from imagination to fancy through all their degrees ;—from Homer and Dante, to Coleridge and Keats; from Shakspeare in King Lear, to Shakspeare himself in the Midsummer Night's Dream ; from Spenser's Faerie Queene to