Page images
PDF
EPUB

older than his friend Shelley, but the best of his books were not published for years after Shelley's death. His influence on England and on literature is in fact much later, and his work must be placed in the array much later, because it was not present to the mind of that generation.

I was compelled then to make a new order for myself and my readers : the order in which the great writers of English made their decisive appearance. This is not so easy a matter, for it involves in many cases a personal judgment : and as only a few illustrations can be given of even a great writer's work, the gradual growth of his influence, and its possible changes, cannot be adequately shown. Moreover he may have one or more contemporaries of exactly his own date, and mutual influences may be at work. In the case of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton I have endeavoured to lessen the difficulties by dividing their work into two and three separate periods. This makes it possible (e.g.) to take account of the political storms which racked Milton's spirit, and to put in its proper place the estimate of Shakespeare formed by a younger contemporary who died in 1592—that is, before the Shakespeare we know had really come into existence.

But whether the work is well or ill done, whether the pieces selected do sufficiently represent in every case the nature of the new influence and the hour of its arrival, I do not doubt that this is the method for my purpose. The idea of the book is that wherever the reader chooses to open it, he shall have (in abridgement) upon the left hand all the effective content of the literary mind at that date : and upon the right hand, all that was still to come.

PREFACE

vii He will also find recorded the dates (when known) of birth and death : but these, as I have said, are not the significant dates : it is by the order that the book stands or falls, and by the value which may be allowed to the idea which it endeavours to carry into effect.

In my own defence--for every anthologist is on his defence—I hope I may plead that I have spent much time and thought upon the work, and that what may appear to be an inconsistency is often the result of a careful negotiation between two irreconcilable necessities. I should wish it also to be remembered that my interpretation of the word literature is a wide one I have felt no difficulty in including familiar letters, and among them such historical (but not literary ") documents as those of Drake and William Paston Junior. In no case has a piece been chosen without some definite reason beyond its literary excellence, as that phrase is commonly used. I have tried to illustrate national life in thought, and whatever helps to that end has been welcome to me. “Gossip Mine" and the song of them " that saylen to St. Jamys" are no doubt rough in texture : but they speak vividly of drink and sea crossings, which have been in the English mind all these centuries as certainly as religion, education, philosophy, science and criticism.

But even if the inconsistencies pass, the omissions will probably hand me over to the expert tormentor. Perhaps the very first test applied to an anthology by most readers takes the form of the inquiry

has he got

?" and to satisfy all desires within the compass of a poor thousand pages is beyond hope. At times the work appears to the

66

compiler as one long series of renunciations : at another he exults in the shining pieces which have gone by hundreds into his mosaic. At any rate they could be matched in no other language: and in many examples very full measure has been given.

For some of the finest contributions to the book I am indebted to the generous kindness of four of my friends : the Poet Laureate ; Mr. Thomas Hardy; Mr. Edmund Gosse ; and Mr. Austin Dobson, whose lines in this volume are doubly endeared to me-by old association and as his dying gift.

I desire also to thank those who have given me permission to include copyright poems or passages : the representatives of Mary Coleridge, Coventry Patmore, A. C. Swinburne, Walter Pater, R. L. Stevenson, and Andrew Lang ; Mr. Charles Whibley, for two poems by W. E. Henley, and my friend Mr. William Meredith, for his father's Hymn to Colour and the chapter from Richard Feverel.

I have to acknowledge permission or confirmation by the following publishers for copyright extracts : for those from Pater, Henley, Andrew Lang, Henry James, J. H. Shorthouse, and Mr. Thomas Hardy, by Messrs. Macmillan ; for the Poet Laureate's poems, by Mr. John Murray; for George Meredith's work, by Messrs. Constable; for Swinburne's poems, and Mr. Gosse's work, by Messrs. Heinemann; for the extract from George Eliot's Middlemarch, by Messrs. Blackwood; for the passage from Mr. Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree, and selections from R. L. Stevenson, by Messrs. Chatto and Windus ; for a poem by Austin Dobson, by Messrs. Kegan Paul, Trench,

PREFACE

ix

Trübner and Co.; and a poem by Andrew Lang, by Messrs. Longmans, Green and Co.

Lastly I acknowledge with gratitude my debt to those editors and anthologists who have preceded me : and especially to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, from whose books I have borrowed several hints and decisions ; and to Sir Henry Craik, who kindly allowed me to take from his own great anthology of English Prose a modernised version of two passages from Sir John Mandeville, and other fragments.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »