A Household Book of English Poetry
Selected and Arranged. With Notes
by Richard Chenevix Trench.



Richard Chenevix Trench






THE first question which I asked myself, when I resumed a purpose long ago entertained, and then for a long while laid aside, of publishing such a selection of English Poetry as the present, was this, namely, whether Mr. Palgrave's Golden Treasury had not so occupied the ground that there was no room for one who should come after. The selection is one made with so exact an acquaintance with the sources from which his Treasury was to be replenished, with so fine a taste in regard of what was worthy to be admitted there, that this was the conclusion to which at the first I was disposed to arrive. Presently, however, I saw reason to change my mind. The volume which I meditated was on so different a scheme and plan from his, that, while no doubt I should sometimes go over ground which he had gone over before, it was evident that, for the most part our paths would be different, and my choice not identical with his. This to so great an extent has proved the case, that of more than three hundred pieces which compose this volume, less than seventy have appeared in his. And it is easy to perceive how this should be. His [VI] is a Treasury of the best songs and lyrical poems in the English Language, and of these exclusively; but within this circle he proposes to include all which is of first-rate excellence in our language by authors not living. My scheme is at once broader and narrower; broader, in that I limit myself to no one particular class of poetry, and embrace the living and the dead alike; narrower, in that I make no attempt to be exhaustive, or to give more than a very few samples even of the best and greatest of our poets.

But if Mr. Palgrave had not forestalled me, I certainly did not feel that any other had so done. Most of the collections which have fallen under my eye have failed to give me the impression of being the result of direct and immediate investigation on the part of the collector into the treasures of our English Poetry. There is so much there which invites citation, and which has never been cited yet in any of our popular anthologies, that it is difficult to think that any one who had himself wandered in this garden of riches would not have carried off some flowers and fruits of his own gathering; instead of offering to us again, as most do, though it may be in somewhat different combinations, what already has been offered by others. When I see, for example, 'Queen and huntress chaste and fair,' doubtless a very graceful lyric, with one or two other familiar poems, doing duty in one collection after another as the specimens of Ben Jonson's verse, it is hard to suppose that his rich and pleasant Underwood has been wandered through; since in that case something which others have not brought already would surely have [VII] been brought away from thence; while the specimens from other poets provoke a similar misgiving. Whatever merit or demerit this may imply, the volume here presented lays claim to a certain originality – or, if that word cannot in this matter be allowed, – to a certain independence of judgment. There has not, indeed, been any attempt, as certainly there has been no desire, to reverse the general judgment and decision about the great poems of the language. He who should offer to do this would merely betray his own presumption, and his unfitness for even so humble a task as that here attempted. But in poems of a very high merit, which yet do not attain to the highest rank of all, there is ample space for the play of such an independent judgment, and I have not hesitated to exercise this. Many, which almost all collections have hitherto contained, will be looked for in vain in this; not a few which, so far as I know, none have included, have found room in it. It is not always that I have considered what I bring forward better than what to make place for it I set aside; but where I have only considered it as good, it has seemed a real gain to put new treasures within the reach of those who are little able, or, if able, are little likely, to go and discover such for themselves. But in very many instances I feel sure that what I have made room for is not merely as good, but better than that which to make room for it I have dismissed; nor has it been a little pleasure to draw from obscure retreats, or from retreats only familiar to those who have made English poetry more or less of a special [VIII] study, and acquainted themselves with its bye ways no less than its high ways, poems which little merit the oblivion into which they had fallen.

I have called this volume a Household Book of English Poetry, by this name implying that it is a book for all, that there is nothing in it to prevent it from being confidently placed in the hands of every member of the household. I wish I could have kept it within a moderate size by no more than the excluding from it everything of inferior value; but it will be evident to all who are at all acquainted with the inexhaustible opulence of English Poetry that I could only do this by continual acts of self-denial, having, at every step of my progress, to set my seal to the truth of that Eastern proverb which says, 'You may bring a nosegay to the city, but you cannot bring the garden.' This is indeed all which in this anthology I have attempted. To have allowed it to grow to a larger bulk would have defeated my hopes that it might be a volume which the emigrant, finding room for little not absolutely necessary, might yet find room for it in his trunk, and the traveller in his knapsack; and that on some narrow shelves where there are few books this might be one. But indeed the actual amount which such a volume contains, whether it be much or little, will be of less consequence in our eyes, when once we have apprehended that Horace was only under the mark when he affirmed of good poetry that ten times repeated it will please. It would be truer to say of a poem which in motive, in form, in diction, in melody, in unity of plan, [IX] satisfies all conditions, that it is 'a joy for ever.' It is impossible so to draw out the sweetness of it that it shall not still have as much to yield us, or it may be more than it had at the beginning. How many another book, once read, can yield no more pleasure or profit to us – but poems of the highest order are in their very essence sources of a delight which is inexhaustible. However much of this has been drawn from them, as much or more remains behind.

There is another reflection which may console us in leaving so much untouched, namely, that almost every considerable poet has written something, in which all that he has of highest and most characteristic has come to a head. Thus I remember that Wordsworth used to speak of Shelley's Ode to a Skylark as the expression of the highest to which his genius had attained. Wordsworth's own Lines on revisiting the banks of the Wye, or, higher perhaps even than these, his Lines suggested by a picture of Peele Castle in a Storm, I should regard as fulfilling for him the same conditions; and what is true of these two, is no less true of other poets out of number.

I have nowhere given extracts from larger poems, but only poems which may be regarded as complete in themselves. It is true that I have sometimes made room for such as, through their length, or through some other cause, must otherwise have been shut out, by omissions; but only where I believed these omissions to be real gains; and I do not think I have anywhere done this without giving warning to the reader. There are, no doubt, [X] certain inconveniences which attend a resolution only to give entire poems and not extracts; and this the chief one – that the space allotted to different poets cannot in all or nearly all instances represent or correspond to their several importance. Some poets have thrown all or well nigh all their poetic faculty into the composition of one or two great poems; and have very seldom indeed allowed themselves in briefer excursions into the land of song. Others on the contrary, of not higher, or it may be not nearly so high, a gift, have put a large part of their strength into these occasional poems, and will therefore yield for a volume like the present infinitely more than their more illustrious compeers. Under the action of this rule, and dramatic poetiy being of necessity excluded, there is nothing of Shakespeare's to choose from but his Sonnets and his Songs – these certainly being in themselves much, but still little when compared with what is passed by. Again, one who does not believe in Alexander's Feast, and still less in the Ode on the Death of Mrs. Killigrew, finds it hard, indeed impossible, to deal anything approaching to justice to Dryden, or by specimens which are at his command to afford any true representation of the range of his powers or the eminence of his place in English literature. It is the same and nearly to the same extent with Pope; while others, like Gray and Campbell, get justice and more than justice; though, yielding what they do, one does not grudge this to them in the least. The inconvenience would certainly be a grave one, if the volume presented itself as primarily a Manual of English Poetry, [XI] or an assistance to the study of the history of this; but having quite another as its primary object, it is one which may very well be borne, while the advantages of such a rule of selection are undoubted.

I have attached a few notes to this volume. I had intended to add many more, but under the pressure of events which now claim, and for a long time to come are likely to claim, nearly all one's thoughts and leisure, have been obliged to renounce the carrying of this intention out, and only to print those which were ready. If in them there is little or nothing with which professed students of English literature are not already familiar, I can only urge that this volume was not designed, and still less were the notes designed, for such; but for readers who, capable of an intelligent interest in the subject, have yet had neither time nor opportunity for special studies of their own in it, and who must therefore rely more or less on the hand-leading of others; nor I trust shall I be found fault with that I have sometimes taken upon me in these notes to indicate what seemed worthy of special admiration; or sought in other ways to plant the reader at that point of view from which the merits of some poem might be most deeply felt and best understood. If I am, I must plead in excuse that for myself in other regions of art, as in music or painting, where I have comparatively little or no confidence in my own judgment, I have been and often am most thankful to those, being persons, whom I could trust, who have told me what to admits, and given me the reasons for [XII] so doing. If we set aside a few intuitive geniuses, it is only thus that any of us can ever hope to be educated into independence of judgment; and I am sure that some, acknowledging this, will be grateful for notes of admiration, by which I have sometimes called their attention to that which othervise might not obtain it, or might not obtain it to the full of its deserts.


LONDON: May 8th, 1868.





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

A Household Book of English Poetry
Selected and Arranged. With Notes by Richard Chenevix Trench.
London: Macmillan and Co. 1868, S. V-XII.

URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008994294
URL: https://archive.org/details/dli.granth.72777
URL: https://books.google.fr/books?id=N14CAAAAQAAJ

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).





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Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer