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THE purpose of this book will, perhaps, be best explained by my first stating what it is not. It is not a manual of English poetical literature. It is not a collection of poetical gems. Nor are the contained poems and extracts chosen as being characteristic of their respective authors. Classification in their arrangement has been avoided. They are grouped irrespective of chronological sequence, or any other method of division, such as would naturally be preferred in a representative collection. The present order was adopted simply with the view of obtaining a fairly harmonious linking of parts, and also something of a crescendo throughout. This latter object could not, however, be more than partially effected, as the attempt was made only after all the pieces had been brought together.
The first condition of the collection was that it should be suitable, and sufficiently varied, for practice in the pleasant, and much-neglected, art of reading aloud; the second, that nothing should be included that was not worth reading. How far they have been fulfilled, it remains for others to decide.
At first sight, the book will probably appear open to criticism, both on the score of its omissions and of its admissions. With regard to the omissions, I think that
they are justified by my first starting-point—fitness for the purpose of reading aloud. On this account, certain poets have been either entirely excluded or scantily represented. Chaucer was a difficulty, by reason of the many notes needed to explain him;1 Spenser, because it is scarcely possible to detach short passages of his great work from their context, without injuring their force and beauty. Many of Milton's minor poems are overcharged with mythological allusions; Dryden is seldom suitable for class-reading; Burns, next to impossible for English readers. Thus, my choice has not, in any instance, been guided either by the rank of a poet, or the extent of his works.
Then, as to the admissions. Many may appear to assume a too high average of intelligence and culture in the reader. I can only say that nearly every piece has been submitted for acceptance or rejection to a preparatory class of students of the Queen Square College for men and women. This was not a picked class, by any means. Those of my students who may chance to read this preface will endorse my accuracy when I say that, though the name of Shakespeare was known to all, his works (with scarcely an exception) were unknown; that Chaucer was unheard of; Milton, no less, though the name of Paradise Lost was tolerably familiar; that Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Keats, and our living poets, did not exist for them even as names. Yet this same class has been able to enter, with genuine pleasure, into the greatest of what our greatest poets have given us. It is not to be supposed that this appreciation cost no effort. That would be equal to saying that the feeling for beauty is
1 As all poetry requiring many explanatory notes has been avoided, so also, for the same reason, the necessary notes have been made as short as possible, in order that the reading may not be hindered either by their absence or presence.