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THERE is no study which should be more dear to an Englishman than the literature of his country, and there is no branch of that literature which has stronger claims on his attention than the works of our great poets. “Poetry,” said Wordsworth, “is the first and last of all knowledge”—an assertion which will sound strange to readers who treat the poet's art as an agreeable accomplishment, instead of accepting it as the highest and noblest effort of which the intellect is capable. But poetry is not merely, nor chiefly, an intellectual achievement. It is the outcome of the singer's heart, and expresses in the choicest language the feelings of which all human hearts are conscious. It deals with universal truths, and there is nothing too great or too little for an instrument which is some


times sublime as the organ, sometimes pathetic as the harp, and sometimes spirit-stirring like the trumpet. Language has a wider compass than music, painting, or sculpture; and Poetry, being less restricted than either of these noble arts, to each of which she is closely linked, stands supreme among the works of man. This exaltation of poetry will not be accepted readily by all readers. There are men blind to beauty and deaf to song; but he who loves the divine art, and knows how much it can yield of solace and delight, of wisdom and aspiration, of energy and calm, will find no exaggeration in my words. And if these words be true of poetry generally, they are certainly true of the poets who have given its greatest lustre to English literature. Noble indeed is the heritage they have handed down to us, and to appreciate by patient study the boon we have received forms no mcan part of a liberal education.

I propose to assist my readers in this study, and to carry them, let me hope pleasantly and profitably, through three centuries of our poetical literature. In doing this it will be my effort so to associate the poets with their times and with their literary contemporaries, that the young student may gain much serviceable knowledge in what may be called the byways of literature and history. Dr. Johnson thought there was no reading more captivating than that of literary biography, and assuredly it will be the writer's fault if he cannot make the great subject he has selected alike instructive and entertaining.

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