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for our selections; especially have we drawn from those deep and copious wells of thought, feeling, and fancy, the elder dramatists: Shakspere, of course, has furnished us with a large proportion of very choice passages; nor have we, as we believe, done injustice to the later bards, from Milton and his contemporaries, down to Wordsworth and those of the present day, whether dead or living.
•'Gladdening the hearts of weary wayfarers
Upwards of half a century ago the Poet Crabbe
“A time like this, a busy, bustling time,
and by Poets, both before and after the advent of this
“Sternest of nature's painters, and her best,"
the same sentiment has been frequently repeated; and yet have they not, on that account, ceased to give shape and substance to the thronging thoughts within them—not the less full and copious has been
the stream of Poesy poured forth by those in whose bosoms it welled up, like the waters of an irrepressible, ever-gushing fountain. Like the old minstrel, Conrad of Wursburgh, and the nightingale to which he likens himself, they must sing, whether they have listeners or not; and that listeners in all times have been, and will be found, however stormy and untoward be the influences of the hour, who
“Fit audience, though few,”
was all that the greatest Poet of the present day asked for, or expected: fit audience he has had, and more than few in number are those who now listen to the calm and thoughtful music of his lyre. ” Many there be that turn aside from the crowded mart and the busy workshop, the counting-house and the factory, into some quiet nook, where
“The inner spirit keepeth holiday,
there to delight themselves with the beauties of some favourite author—to walk with Poesy in her serene retreats, and to indulge in those “sweet
pleasures” that “to verse belong;" but there are yet more who would gladly do this, were they not
“Chained to the desk, the world's unwilling slaves,"
or in some other way so fully engaged in working out the great problem of life, and satisfying
“That sad necessity for bread and cheese"
which none of us can escape, that they are quite unable to do so. To such as these we offer, with some confidence, and with no little sympathy, our collection of choice flowers, culled from the gardens of Poesy: may they refresh the mind, and gladden the heart, and beautify the path, of many a careworn toiler in the fields of labour, of whatsoever kind. Not a Poet of all the five hundred and more
whom we have called on to contribute to these
pages-from Hesiod, and Homer, and Virgil, and Horace, and others, whose voices float like mysterious music amid the myths and traditions of by-gone ages, to Chaucer, who sang in the dawning light of English literature, and the Bard of Avon, and that glorious company who proclaimed the bursting forth of its noontide splendour; and then, again, to
Milton, and Dryden, and Pope, and on through the long array of sweet singers, on whom the mantle of Poetic inspiration has fallen, down to our own time;--not one of them, we say, whatever were his age, or tongue, or creed, but would rejoice so to lighten the toil of the toiler, so to cheer the heart of the weary and heavy-laden.
“Sit still upon your thrones,
O ye poetic ones!
Ye to yourselves suffice,
Without its flatteries,
is the advice of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her compeers of "the silver-stringed lyre;" and no one has a better appreciation than herself of the Poet's office and vocation. Yet, as the cloud cannot send down its rain without refreshing, nor the sun pour out its beams without warming and gladdening all nature, neither can the Poet, far exalted as he may be above the vexed and unquiet earth, sing of his far-reaching thoughts and his lofty aspirations, and of whatsoever is holy, and beautiful, and true, but
there will be listening hearts, and attentive minds, on which his strains will fall, as the refreshing rain and the genial sunshine upon the thirsty soil, vivifying, purifying, and invigorating, and making even the arid desert “blossom as the rose.” Yes, however lifted above this work-day world may be the Poet, however hidden “in the light of thought,” as the lark in golden sunshine, and rapturously singing, as though "quiring to the young-eyed cherubim,” his song will not be lost to terrestrial ears; even amid the din of the great battle of life it will be heard-heard now, and for ever:
“Who shall know it, who shall listen
To the chaunted notes of love?
Thinking of the realms above.
All in whom the chords of feeling
Have been woken by the touch
Grief or pleasure over-much;
Glorious and lofty swayed;
On a heavenly altar laid;
To the sweetly-warbled song,
And the winds be loud and strong.