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PREFACE TO THE NOTES
Tas notes given in this edition of Palgrave's Golden Treasury are the outcome of many years' teaching from what I believe to be the best collection of English poems which can be put into the hands of the young. As a collection of the most beautiful poems in the language it is easily surpassed by many other anthoiogies, notably the Oxford Book of English Verse ; but unhappily education does not consist merely in the absorption of what is beautiful, and from the educational point of view Palgrave's selection is entitled to the first place mainly because it includes many pieces which are famous rather than admirable, pieces which we should be ashamed not to know, even if we do not take any real delight in knowing them.
Many competent teachers hold that the introduction of English masterpieces into the schoolroom is the surest way to implant in the young a lifelong distaste for poetry. Such was not, I am glad to think, the experience of my own boyhood, and I would suggest that where this lamentable result is found it proceeds either from the teacher's indifference to poetry, or from the pupil's inability to grasp the poet's meaning. It is true that there are minds incapable of appreciating poetry at any stage of their lives, just as there are those to whom music makes no appeal; but I have never met a boy who disliked poetry which he could understand, while I have known many whose critical faculty and sense of beauty have been enlarged, as I think they would have been in no other way, by a careful study of some of the gems which Palgrave selected for his treasury.
The first essential then of notes is that they should throw light on the text, and this is unfortunately what so many annotators omit to do. In a note on a difficult passage paragraphs of exclamatory rhetoric on its beauty are useless to a reader who has failed to grasp its meaning, and would be easily out-weighed in value by the baldest paraphrase. Yet too many of the notes I have seen are one prolonged-generally feminine-twitter of admiration, full of the ' I-cannotunderstand-I-love' spirit, but reducing the child, who is not at all disposed to love till he does understand, to a state of irritation highly unfavourable to the acquisition of a taste for poetry.
I have therefore made it my prime object to explain every word, phrase or line which I found difficult myself, and did not rest content with drawing the reader's attention to the matchless beauty or the 'untranslatable charm' of the passage, or with advising him to
compare’ a similar expression in another volume, for well I knew that such advice would not be taken. It follows then that no small part of the notes consists in attempted paraphrase, and if, as Mr. Senhouse maintained, the moment a man begins to turn poetry into prose he begins to tell lies, the amount of mendacity in the following pages must be appalling ; but, while fully conscious of the inadequacy of my own renderings, I shelter myself behind Bacon's dictum A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure or at all events in the present case makes for understanding.
That my explanations will commend themselves to every one is hardly to be expected ; there is no key to a poet's mind unless he has himself provided one, and an annotator can do no more than exercise that faculty of intelligent guessing which every good teacher tries to instil into his pupils. So in case any young people should read this Preface—which is most unlikely, as it will not fall within any examination limits I give them full leave to question the accuracy of my interpretations, provided they can find better, and I beg them to exercise that right of private judgement, the use of which is the basis of all real conviction.
The citation of parallel passages affords a fine field for the display of an editor's reading, or at least testifies to his possession of a good Dictionary of Quotations, but as in the vast majority of cases it does nothing to increase the reader's understanding of the text, I have rigorously abstained from this easiest of all ways of eluding a difficulty, except where the parallel was needed to elucidate the text or to support my interpretation of it. The first object of an editor should be to get as far as possible into an author's mind and to put down what he finds there ; thus if a poet appears to be consciously drawing on some earlier source, it is the editor's business, as I conceive, to cite the original passage (not merely to give a reference to it); but if there is no such conscious borrowing, the citation of a number of other passages bearing on the same point is to be deprecated as introducing matter which was not in the poet's mind at the time of writing. And yet it is almost pathetic to see how some reviewers, faithful to the mid-Victorian editions of the Classics on which they were reared, will reproach an editor with not having quoted all the obvious parallels to a passage in the text; this they will doubtless do with the present work, unless by some chance they pause to ask themselves what good end is served by such quotations. They may then realize that a power of abstention is not the least among the requirements of an cditor.