Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. (18381915). Yale Book of American Verse. 1912.
A Word about Anthologies
AUBREY DE VERE tells us of three conversations he held the very same day on the very same subject with three different authors. Two of them were men of great poetic genius, the third was a man of distinct poetic talent. The topic of discussion in each case was the poetry of Burns. The difference of opinion expressed struck him as remarkable. The first with whom he talked was Tennyson. "Read the exquisite songs of Burns," exclaimed that poet, "in shape each of them has the perfection of the berry; in light the radiance of the dewdrop; you forget for its sake those stupid things, his serious pieces."
A little later in the day he met Wordsworth. Again the conversation fell on Burns. "Wordsworth," he writes, "praised him even more vehemently than Tennyson had done, as the great genius who had brought poetry back to nature. 'Of course,' he said in conclusion, 'I refer to his serious efforts, such as The Cotter's Saturday Night; those foolish little amatory songs of his one has to forget.'" On the evening of this same day he chanced to fall in with Henry Taylor. Him he told of the different views expressed by the two poets. The author of Philip Van Artevelde disposed of them both very summarily. "Burns' exquisite songs and Burns' serious efforts are to me alike tedious and disagreeable reading," was the comment he made.
The story is somewhat singular; but after all it is much more singular for the rapidity with which the expression of these varying views chanced to follow one another than for the views expressed. The disparagement of great poetic work by writers, themselves of great poetic power, and likewise the extraordinary praise lavished by them upon very ordinary verse, are both significant facts which can hardly fail to arrest at times the attention of the student of literature. The history of letters, in truth, abounds in singular judgments which men of genius have passed upon the productions of other men of genius. It is often hard to tell which is the more remarkablethe mean opinion which these entertain of what the rest of the world has approved, or the admiration they have or profess to have for what the rest of the world refuses to regard with favor.
Many will recall the lofty scorn which Matthew Arnold poured upon the men who for generations had admired and enjoyed Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome. He proclaimed that a man's power to detect the ring of false metal in these pieces was a good measure of his fitness to give an opinion about poetical matters at all. The self-sufficiency of this utterance is as delicious as its positiveness. These Lays, it may be added, had been welcomed with such intense enthusiasm by Christopher North, the critical lawgiver of the generation of their appearance, that Macaulay felt himself constrained to make a personal acknowledgment of the cordiality of the greeting his work had met from the then all-powerful reviewer who had been one of his extreme political adversaries. But there is an even more amusing side to the affair. The self-satisfied criticism of Matthew Arnold could hardly have failed to bring to Trevelyan a half-malicious pleasure, when he revealed in his fascinating life of his uncle that it was the urgency of Arnold's own father that led Macaulay to complete and publish these Lays. They owed their conception to the theory of Niebuhr that the stories told in the first three or four books of Livy came from the lost ballads of the early Romans. This theory, Thomas Arnold adopted in his history as having been fully established. Macaulay also took the same view. Accordingly he amused himself, while in India, with the effort to restore some of these long-perished poems. Thomas Arnold died before the Lays were printed, but not before he had seen two of them in manuscript. These so impressed him that he wrote to Macaulay about them in terms of such eulogy that the latter was induced to go on with the completion and correction of them. In consequence the son was unconsciously exhibiting his own father as unfit to express any opinion about poetry at all.
The possession of creative power is indeed far from implying the possession of a corresponding degree of critical judgment. In literature all of us have our preferences and our aversions. Perhaps even more than their inferiors are men of genius susceptible to feelings of this nature and to the errors of judgment caused by them. The revelation of their likes and dislikes is in consequence apt to be more entertaining than edifying. At any rate, there is nothing surprising in itself that Tennyson and Wordsworth should each have cared in the poetry of Burns for what the other did not care at all. Each found in it that which appealed to him especially and also that which did not appeal to him in the slightest. It is but a single one of many proofs that the estimate taken by a man of genius of a particular work or writer is not necessarily of any more value than that taken by any other highly educated man, though it inevitably carries more weight with the general public. When, however, this estimate comes into direct conflict with the deliberate and settled opinion of the great body of cultivated readers, it is really of no value at all.
For the truth is that in the case of works of the imagination the settled judgment of the great body of cultivated men is infinitely superior to the judgment of any one man, however eminent. Very wisely that body will not in the long run, nor ordinarily even in the short run, accept the decision of any self-constituted censor which runs counter to its own conclusions. A genuinely great production will in the end find its own public which in time will become the public; and that public will not be deterred from admiring it by the most bitter attacks of the ablest writers in the most influential periodicals. In his estimate of works involving special knowledge, the individual wisely defers to the authority of experts. In works of the imagination, however, every man of culture is in varying degrees an expert himself. When dealing with productions of this class the right of private judgment overrides the authority of the highest court of criticism, reverses its decisions and frequently visits with contumely those who have pronounced its verdicts. For this view we have the authority of the acutest of observers and thinkers. Aristotle long ago pointed out that in the matter of music and poetry, the opinion of all menof course he had in mind all those competent to be considered judgeswas far more worthy of respect than the opinion of seemingly the greatest authority. "The people at large," said he, "however contemptible they may appear when taken individually, are not, when collectively considered, unworthy of sovereignty. They are the best judges of music and poetry. The general taste is not only better than that of the few, but even than that of any one man, howsoever discerning he may be."
It is not necessary to consider here the reasons which Aristotle adduced to establish the correctness of this view. It is enough for us to recognize the fact that the experience of men, rightly interpreted, bears witness to its truth. In each of the cases just mentioned the question has been settled accordingly. However wide differences of opinion may be as to the actual or comparative value of particular pieces, the verdict of the educated multitude has been given in approval of both the serious and the amatory poems of Burns. It has likewise been given in approval of the Roman lays of Macaulay. That individuals may plume themselves upon the peculiar exquisiteness of taste they exhibit in dissenting from the estimate taken by the public, does not affect the justice of that estimate any more than it does its permanence. It is full as often the fate of the too superior person, as it is that of the too inferior one, to show his lack of critical judgment by the judgment he shows.
Owing, however, to this wide diversity of taste, no work of the nature of the present volume can ever be wholly satisfactory to any one save the compiler, if indeed it be so to him. As regards the rest of the world, he must content himself with at best a qualified approval even if he succeeds in avoiding general condemnation. An assumption that any collection made by a single person, no matter who he be, can possibly represent the final conclusions of the judgment of the collective body of cultivated men is as utterly unwarranted by experience as it is unsupported by reason. Yet it is an assumption which has more than once been made. Let us take, for example, the Household Book of Poetry brought out in 1857 by Charles Anderson Dana. This was an excellent compilation as well as the earliest with us of its special class. It was received with great favor and it deserved all the favor it received. Yet nothing more unwise or unwarranted could well have been written than the opening sentence of its preface. "The purpose of this book," said the editor, "is to comprise within the bounds of a single volume whatever is truly beautiful and admirable among the minor poems of the English language." No more suggestive comment need be given upon the claim then put forth than the remark contained in the advertisement prefixed to a subsequent edition. In that it was stated that some pieces originally included had been dropped and their places filled by others believed to possess greater merit.
A statement of the sort just made is based, in truth, not only upon the assumption that the editor's acquaintance with the poetical literature of our race is absolutely complete, but that his judgment of the comparative excellence of the pieces composing it is absolutely perfect. No one would be willing to concede the latter qualification and few the former. Every collection of poems must inevitably reflect to a great extent the limitation of the compiler's knowledge. Many pieces which he would have been glad to include, had he been aware of their existence, are likely to have escaped his observation. But were there no lack of knowledge, the choice he makes will be certain to reflect the nature of his literary sympathies, and even more the limitations of his literary taste; at all events its distinctive character. There are certain poems which it is always easy to select. Upon them the consent of the ages has already set the stamp of approval. Against this verdict of successive generations there may be protest upon the part of the individual; but from it there can be no valid appeal.
If, indeed, any one finds himself disliking something in which cultivated men of all periods have taken delight, it will be well for him to make a careful examination of himself. The chances are that his own poor estimate of such work is due to a defect in himself and not in the poetry he undervalues. Few of us are sufficiently endowed with that broadmindedness of judgment and that catholicity of taste which enable its possessor to bring to poetry of essentially different kinds an equal capacity of appreciation. That may be a misfortune we cannot help; but we can free ourselves, at least, from the fancy of looking upon our own onesidedness and our inability to sympathize with the judgments of others whom we recognize to be our intellectual equals, as proof that we are in possession of a taste peculiarly refined.
For he indeed assumes a certain degree of risk who ventures to set up his own estimate of particular pieces in opposition to that which the large majority of cultivated men have apparently taken. Where something is plainly inferior or commonplace an editor may feel at liberty to exercise his own discretion as to its exclusion, no matter how popular it may be with thousands. But when it stands on the border line between the mediocre and the good, he ought, while preserving his independence, to have a certain hesitation in preferring his own taste to that of scores of educated men whom he recognizes to be as competent as he to sit in judgment. I have myself tried to conform to this dictum in the present volume. There are certain cases in which I have inserted in it poems, not because of the estimate I personally entertain of their excellence, but because of the estimate entertained by others, whose critical opinion I respect. One or two specific instances will be given in the course of this essay in which I have submitted my own judgment to that of the large majority of critics, preferring to believe that my taste must be wrong, coming into conflict as it does with that of so many others. Furthermore, certain poems have been included here, commonplace enough so far as the words are concerned, but to which associations have come to attach themselves entirely independent of their literary quality. Popular interest or historic importance may be taken to indicate that there is warrant for their insertion. Every one would notice their absence; some would resent it. A notable instance of this is Home, Sweet Home.
Still, as regards poems which have received the approval of generations, there is generally little difficulty for the editor. But between the distinctly great pieces which all men competent to judge would accept without hesitation and the distinctly inferior pieces which these same persons would as summarily reject, there lies a vast body of verse. Here the world has not spoken authoritatively. Hence at this point comes in the play of individual choice. That choice will be often widely different in the case of men apparently equal in knowledge and in critical judgment. One will rate a poem above the border line which separates excellence from mediocrity, the other will place it below. In each instance the influence of the personal equation becomes recognizable. To the one the poem may appeal because it calls up for him subtle trains of association, or because it revives for him certain feelings to which experiences of his own have made him keenly sensitive, or because it touches upon problems of life and conduct in which he is profoundly interested. To the other it conveys none of these things. Because it does not, he passes it by without interest and without regard.
It is further true that poetry which appeals to us at one period of life will sometimes not do so at another. The taste has changed; it is not necessaryit is certainly not discreetto assume that it has improved. But far more influential than any other cause for difference of opinion are essential differences in men's natures which are sufficient to render the judgment partial. There exist among the most highly cultivated wide variations of tastevariations which extend to subject as well as treatment. A certain kind of verse is fairly sure to attract a certain class of mindsnot necessarily to the exclusion of other kinds, but to a decided preference for it over them. One man is fond of meditative poetry; another of that which glitters with point and sparkle; another of that which deals in outbursts of intense feeling. It may be that this preference will exist with enjoyment and appreciation of a different kind of poetry, or indeed of all other kinds of poetry. It may be even that there will be an intellectual acknowledgment of the superiority of some other kind. Still the fact remains that this is the one kind which appeals to the man himself, the one kind that attracts and influences him.
Furthermore, there are certain moods of mind and states of experience in which a person is affected by the writings of one author and could not be influenced by those of another of equal or even greater powers. This is something entirely different from according to the author in question a supreme position, though it must be conceded that it has a tendency to elevate him to the highest. There is a very signal illustration of this fact in the account which John Stuart Mill gives in his autobiography of the crisis of mental depression through which he passed in his youth. In this he tried to find relief in poetry. To it he had previously paid little attention. He turned to Byron and found in him no help. That poet's state of mind was too like his own. Life was to him the vapid, uninteresting thing which it had become to the one who sought relief in his pages for his own dejection. It was in Wordsworth that he found reliefnot in The Excursion, he tells us, from which he gained little or nothing, but from the miscellaneous poems which appeared in the edition of 1815. From the teachings of that poet he gradually emerged from the dejection which was threatening to become habitual. This instance is particularly worthy of notice because Mill was disposed to underrate Wordsworth. He did not place his work on a high level of achievement. Even in that writer's own age he thought there had been far greater poets. "I long continued to value Wordsworth," he wrote, "less according to his intrinsic merits than by the measure of what he had done for me. Compared with the greatest poets, he may be said to be the poet of unpoetical natures, possessed of quiet and contemplative tastes. But unpoetic natures are precisely those which require poetic cultivation. This cultivation Wordsworth is much more fitted to give than poets who are intrinsically far more poets than he."
The dissent which such a view of Wordsworth will awaken in that author's admirers renders distinct and marked the impossibility of bringing about harmony of view as to the comparative greatness of particular poets or as to the estimate which should be taken of the value of particular pieces. On such points the judgments of men of different natures can never be reconciled. If the fondness for any one sort of verse chances to be controlling, it is hard for its possessor to do justice to productions of a totally different character. The followers of poets of unlike types are fairly sure to be drawn up in different camps. They are not unfrequently found ranged in hostile ones. As a result the enthusiastic admirer of some particular author is seldom content with expressing what is for him a perfectly justifiable preference. He feels impelled to depreciate if not to deny totally the merits of some rival author with whom his own idol is constantly contrasted. He seems unaware that in thus giving vent to his hostility he is doing little more than betray his own limitations.
In this matter the difference in the point of view from which the works of different writers are looked at by different editors can be brought home to every one by comparing the poems taken from particular authors as found in this volume with those contained in the various anthologies which have been for some time before the public. It can be made still more emphatic by comparing these anthologies with one another. In all of them the influence of individual taste and preference makes itself distinctly felt. For obvious reasons the attention is here confined to the poetical collections brought out in this country. Of these it is sufficient to say that during the last fifty or sixty years there have been published a full half-dozen which have aimed at completeness. As they set out to cover the whole field of English literature, much the largest proportion of what they contain has been taken from British authors. Still they have given full recognition to whatever has come from America which they have deemed worthy of inclusion.
The earliest of these works was Dana's Household Book of Poetry already mentioned. The second appeared in 1870. It was entitled The Library of Poetry and Song. To it was prefixed an introduction by William Cullen Bryant. Though not actually compiled by him, it passed under his supervision and revision. In so doing he added and excluded a good deal of matter; hence it came to go under his name. Then followed, in 1875, Emerson's collection entitled Parnassus, and the next year Whittier's Songs of Three Centuries. The fifth is the Fireside Encyclopedia of Poetry, which came out in 1878, edited by a Philadelphia publisher, Henry T. Coates. Finally appeared, in 1881, Harper's Encyclopedia of British and American Poetry, edited by Epes Sargent. To these six may fairly be added The American Anthology of Edmund Clarence Stedman which was published in 1900. This, indeed, differs from the others in character as well as in content. Like the earlier similar volume of Griswold, it was not designed as a collection of poems of undisputed worth, but as a general representation of the work of American authors who had written verse of various degrees of excellence.
Here, therefore, are seven volumes, six of which purport to contain nothing save what their compilers deemed to be of value in itself, as well as what would be generally conceded to be the best work of the best authors. Several of them were edited by men who had themselves attained the widest recognition as writers of verse. From these last one might naturally expect a fair degree of unanimity of opinion as to what pieces could be considered as most deserving of inclusion. As a matter of fact, nothing is more striking than the variations displayed in the selections made. The discrepancies of choice are so great as almost to deserve the epithet of startling, if indeed they may not be called amazing. And this difference of taste is not confined to the work of writers but little known. It is fully as remarkable in the case of American poets of the first rank, about the comparative value of whose production there might seem to have grown up an agreement of opinion which would make the task of selection comparatively easy.
Take for illustration the diversity of choice exhibited in the selections made from two or three of the best known of these poets. Let us begin with Longfellow. He has been so much before the public and so popular that a general agreement would naturally be looked for as to those pieces of his which had received the approval of the whole circle of the most cultivated body of readers. Yet in his case a peculiarly wide discrepancy of choice has shown itself. Of the sixteen pieces of his which are found in this volume, one alone reaches the distinction of being contained in as many as four of the seven anthologies just mentioned. This is the Psalm of Life, or what the Heart of the Young Man said to the Psalmist. It is the most widely quoted of Longfellow's poems; to me it is one of the least worthy of quotation. It is largely a collection of observations which when they are not platitudinous, are not true. There is little use in telling us that the lives of great men remind us that we can make our own lives sublime. Most of us are perfectly well aware that the sublime lives of great menand their lives have not unfrequently been pettycan not serve as examples to us, because we are not great men. Consequently we lack the ability to leave footprints on the sands of time, however much we may have the desire. Nor indeed does the particular method recommended strike one as practicable. The last place a rational man would choose for leaving a permanent footprint would be on the sandy beach bordering an ocean. The chance of its lasting long enough to be seen by any one sailing over life's solemn main would be too slight to make it worth while to take the trouble of implanting it. In truth this particular young man seems to have been very young. He is advised by his heart to be a hero not only in the battle but in the bivouac. If the psalmist had thought it worth while to reply, he would doubtless have informed the young man that the bivouac, in the modern sense of the word, affords little opportunity for one to show himself a hero, and that the best thing he could do there would be to act like one of the dumb driven cattle which his heart warns him not to imitate, and lie down and go peacefully to sleep. Yet with these views about the poem itself, I insert it in this collection in deference to a sentiment in which I do not share. On the other hand, were I asked to choose a piece which shows Longfellow at his best, it would be that which appeared originally as the proem to his collection entitled The Waif. This now usually receives, from its first line, the heading, The Day is Done. Yet out of these seven anthologies it is found only in that of Coates.
Let us consider now the selections from Bryant. In his case there is much more agreement among the compilers of these various anthologies than there is in that of Longfellow. There are two of his poems which are contained in every one of them, and there are three or four others which have found a place in the majority. One of the two included by all is The Waterfowl. Apparently it is the correct thing to admire this particular piece. It is invariably or almost invariably printed in selections from Bryant's poetry. It is as regularly extolled as a singular proof of his genius. To me this most praised of his productions is the least worthy of those usually chosen as representative. It is merely a second-rate piece of work, whose inferiority forces itself upon the mind because it inevitably suggests a comparison it can not bear with the odes to the Skylark of Shelley, of Hogg and of Wordsworth. Yet it will be found here, not because of the opinion I entertain of its merit, but because its actual or assumed popularity with most educated men leads me to distrust my own judgment. On the other hand, the omission from these various anthologies of poems which fairly arrest attention strikes one as much more singular than some of the selections. Bryant and Stedman are the only editors who insert The Snow-Shower. The poet himself did not include in his own collection the poem of June, so warmly praised by Poe, nor The Conqueror's Grave, nor The Future Life. Of these three pieces which are peculiarly representative of Bryant's finest work, the first two are found only in Stedman's and the last only in Sargent's collection.
The selections from Whittier exhibit even wider discrepancies of taste. In his Songs of Three Centuries, he included six of his own pieces. Literary history shows that poets themselves are frequently far from being the best judges of the comparative excellence of their own performances. The difference between the creative and the critical faculty often becomes at such times almost painfully marked. That, in my opinion, Whittier shared in this not uncommon defect may be inferred from the fact that not a single one of the six chosen by him can be found in the present volume. I have, however, the consolation of discovering that I am not alone in my blindness to their merits; that not a single one of them found its way into six of the anthologies which have been mentioned; and their verdict would have been unanimous had not one of the author's half-dozen somehow escaped into Coates's collection. On the other hand, four of those which are given in this workThe Old Burying-Ground, Dedication to the Sewalls of the volume entitled In War Time, The Watchers, and Lines on the Death of O. S. Torreyhave no place in a single one of the seven anthologies I have specified. Two other poemsRandolph of Roanoke and What the Birds Saidappear in but a single one of these collections, in each case in a different one.
The comparison would be even more striking in the case of Oliver Wendell Holmes. There are over thirty of his pieces not found here which are included in some one of the seven volumes mentioned. Yet but a small proportion of the thirty appears in more than one of them. On the other hand, half a score of his poems which are here included cannot be found in a single one of these collections. But it is needless to go on giving illustrations of the wide divergencies of judgment and taste displayed in anthologies; for they could be multiplied almost endlessly. Facts of this nature prove conclusively to an editor that the selections he makes will never receive the full approval, not simply of all lovers of poetry, but of any individual among them. The impossibility of satisfying critics I take for granted, just as I would the impossibility of any one of them satisfying me, were he to undertake a similar task.
What, therefore, is incumbent to say here is to point out precisely what the aim is which has been kept in view in making this particular collection. It differs largely from most of the others which have been brought out. It puts forth no pretense of being representative or inclusive of American verse or verse-makers. Some names found in other anthologies do not appear here at all. Some again appear which are found in none of the others. This last was partly due to the fact that the plan of this work was to comprise kinds of verse which the plan of certain if not of all the others excluded. Had the whole field of English literature been open to draw from, it would have been easy from the abundance of material to restrict the selection to what might be distinctly called poetry pure and simple. Confined as this volume is to the comparatively scanty body of American verse, liberty of choice of this nature did not exist. Such a limitation was practically impossible. Yet had there been for it a demand, it would not have seemed to me desirable. Every kind of verse worth reading at all has a right to be represented; all that can fairly be demanded is that the poem chosen should be good in its kind, though the kind itself may be distinctly inferior. Accordingly specimens of all sorts of poetry can be found in the present volumethe serious, the light, the contemplative, the pathetic, the humorous and the satiric. Not even has the travesty been excluded; and there are a goodly number of specimens of that sort of verse which in our tongue lacks a recognized name and appears under the foreign title of vers de société. Perhaps, indeed, disproportionate space has been given to the representatives of these minor classes. Yet this is a fault, if it be a fault, which the general reader will be disposed to pardon, however much the severe student of poetry may disapprove.
As the authors from whom selections were made were required to follow one another in chronological order, there was no choice save to begin with specimens of religious poetry; for only in that is found the very little of our early verse that can be deemed worthy of citation at all. Few will be disposed to deny that Joel Barlow's version of the one hundred and thirty-seventh psalm is worth more, poetically considered, than the whole of his laborious epic, to say nothing of his other pieces. Curiously enough, not even his name, as well as that of one or two others represented in this volume, appears in Stedman's supposedly all-embracing anthology. The fact that Barlow's version of this psalm is rarely found in modern hymnals, is another justification for its inclusion in this work. Still, in the case of religious poetry, it must be confessed, the choice is so hard as to be almost perilous. "A good hymn," said Tennyson, "is the most difficult thing in the world to write. For a good hymn you have to be commonplace and poetical. The moment you cease to be commonplace and put in an expression at all out of the common, it ceases to be a hymn." But if difficulties of this sort beset the writer, full as perplexing ones beset the editor. Most hymns that have any enduring popularity are almost invariably set to particular tunes. The permanent addition of music to the words blunts in time the critical sense. The two are at last so blended in the minds of those by whom they are heard frequently that it becomes practically impossible to dissociate them and judge the value of each independently. Hence the compiler is always in danger of choosing pieces not so much on account of the poetic merit they possess as of the music to which they are set; for he cannot tell where the influence of the one begins and that of the other ends. It may therefore be that he who comes to the consideration of some of these pieces without any associations save those purely literary may find them unworthy of being included.
Of the earlier writers represented in this collection, the two who seem to have given most promise of future performance were cut off prematurely. These were Joseph Rodman Drake and Edward Coate Pinkney. Both suffered long from disease, both lived only about a quarter of a century. For most of us the memory of Drake has been better preserved by the lines Halleck wrote on his death than by anything he himself produced. Of the two, indeed, Pinkney's was the more poetic nature. There is something peculiarly pathetic in the following passage from one of his poems, revealing as it does the sickness of heart that comes from failing hope and the depression of spirit which the shadow of death had already begun to cast upon his life:
A sense it was, that I could see
The angel leave my side
That thenceforth my prosperity
Must be a falling tide;
A strange and ominous belief
That in spring-time the yellow leaf
Had fallen on my hours;
And that all hope must be most vain,
Of finding on my path again,
Its former, vanished flowers.
Pinkney is best known by his piece entitled, A Health; and it would be difficult to find anywhere in English literature a more exquisite tribute paid to womanhood. It is unquestionably the most perfect of his productions; but there is excellence enough in his other work to make keenly felt the loss which American literature suffered from his prolonged illness and the consequent despondency which hung over much of his life and ceased only with his untimely death.
No small number of authors will be found represented in this collection by a single piece only. There is nothing peculiar in itself in the fact. Writers of established reputation in English literature there are who continue to flourishif that verb can be properly used in such casesalmost entirely on the strength of one, two or three short poems. They may have produced a large body of other verse and usually have done so. This may have had too in its own day great vogue; but it is now unfamiliar to all save literary scholars or rather literary antiquaries. Take as an illustration the case of Edmund Waller. He was so much a favorite writer of the seventeenth century that by large numbers he was regarded as the greatest poet of his time. His first collected volume of verse belongs to 1645, the year which witnessed a similar venture on the part of Milton. The immediate fortunes of the two works were, however, distinctly different. Three editions of Waller's volume appeared the first year of its publication. Before his death in 1687 four others had followed, to say nothing of his many productions published separately. Yet so far now as he retains acceptance with the mass of educated men, his repute rests upon two or three short pieces, in very deed mainly upon one.
Nevertheless, it is a good deal of an achievement to have produced even a single piece of poetry which the men of aftertimes will continue to cherish as part of the intellectual riches of the race. The fact is that in the same way as many persons are capable of writing but one good work of fiction, so many persons are capable of writing but one really excellent poem. Their other productions may possess merit of a sort; only one stands out so conspicuously among its fellows that the world recognizes its superiority the moment it chances to be brought to its attention. This truth is illustrated frequently in this volume. The Florence Vane of Philip Pendleton Cooke; the Two Villages of Rose Terry Cooke; the After the Ball of Nora Perry; the Ships at Sea of Robert Barry Coffin, and several others which could be mentioned, are so much better than anything besides, which each of these authors has written, that it perhaps tends to render the critic unjust to whatever else they have accomplished. Still to be judged by his best performance always tends to add more to the credit of the writer than if the attention were distracted from it to other pieces, which even if good in themselves are distinctly inferior to the one selected as representative.
It has been part of my plan to give those pieces dealing with the feelings and fortunes of the combatants during the long and desperate struggle that went on between North and South, the poetical merits of which might seem to justify their insertion. A large body of verse came then into being and even afterward. Much of it naturally owed the favorable reception it met to the fact that it appealed to the excited passions of the moment. Its literary quality came little into consideration. Still there are poems occasioned by the Civil War which are worthy of a place in any American anthology. Of the lyrics then produced two stand out as of exceptional excellence. One is My Maryland, the impassioned appeal of James Ryder Randall, then resident in Louisiana, to his native state to join the South in its resistance to Northern aggression. The other is Julia Ward Howe's Battle-Hymn of the Republic, in which the fiery anti-slavery zeal of a minority, soon to become a majority, found its most adequate expression. Yet in spite not only of the fervor but of the exquisite literary finish of the latter poem, it seems to me decidedly inferior as a martial lyric to the stirring strains of the former.
Here again some pieces have been included, not so much on the score of their literary excellence as for the reason that they came to be endeared to those participating in the conflict in consequence of serving as a solace to their feelings or an inspiration to their acts. Verses which operate upon the hearts of multitudes and express their emotions deserve recognition in any anthology even if their literary merit is so far from being of the highest type that it is not in fact very high. This itself is a sufficient reason for including Palmer's Stonewall Jackson's Way, and above all Dixie, which in its literary form, as contrasted with its popular one, was singularly enough the production of a man of Massachusetts birth who never saw the South until after he had reached his majority.
It is a peculiarity of many of these Civil War poems that their content would frequently fail to reveal the section of country from which they came. This indeed might naturally be expected to happen when the combatants on each side had not the slightest doubt in their minds that in taking the course they did, they were doing their best to carry out the purposes of the Lord. In consequence there is often nothing in the words themselves to reveal the place of their origin. Such, for instance, is the case with Cutler's Volunteer and The Thousand and Thirty-Seven of Halpine. Even the dedication of Whittier's volume entitled In War Time, dealing as it does with the widespread sorrow reaching then every home from the lakes to the gulf, might as easily have been written by a Southern fire-eater as by a Northern abolitionist. In truth Ethel Lynn Beers's All Quiet Along the Potomac has been claimed by, or at least has been attributed to, several persons, among them one who was a Mississippian and another a Georgian. Furthermore, to this day it has not been definitely settled from which quarter came the popular poem sometimes entitled Civil War and sometimes The Fancy Shot. It appeared originally in the London periodical, Once a Week, for October 5, 1861. There the title given was Civile Bellum, and the poem itself was signed "From the Once United States." In this collection I have followed hesitatingly the authorities which attribute its composition to Charles Dawson Shanley.
Among the poems begotten of this prolonged conflict, which are to be found in this volume, is one which I have included with hesitation because I am ignorant whether its author, whoever he or she was, is living or dead. I have never met it in any collection, and it was under somewhat peculiar circumstances that I came across it myself. On the march to Gettysburg the army had gone one night into camp, when I picked up a torn piece of newspaper which was fluttering about. As anything to be read of any sort was then far from abundant, I looked it over. From the character of the contents of what little had been preserved, it was manifestly an anti-slavery sheet, though there was nothing left to tell which one it was of the several then published. What arrested my attention, however, were certain verses headed, if I remember aright, Home Wounded. At all events, the production was manifestly suggested by Gerald Massey's poem with that title. But though it reminded one of it, beyond the idea underlying its conception it was indebted to it for only two or three words and phrases.
No name of writer appeared on this torn fragment as I found it; in fact, no space was left for one. Even the last word of the poem had disappeared, though it was easily supplied by the sense and ryme. It could have been written by either man or woman, though in my ignorance about its authorship I should attribute it to a woman. It was further characteristic of the similar way in which the intense feeling which prevailed on both sides then manifested itself, that, though the verses appeared in an anti-slavery journal, they could as well have been written in the South as in the North, were it not for a single line in the last stanza. I was so struck at the time by the poem that I cut it out of the torn piece of paper containing it. Naturally this soon disappeared. The words, however, remained in my mind. I have reproduced them from memory, and though after the lapse of so many years I can not be sure that what is printed here is an absolutely exact transcript of the lines as I found them, I am confident that it is not much out of the way.
Still while there are many creditable pieces of poetry that owe their existence to the passions aroused by the Civil War, there are comparatively few that by the most liberal charity attain sufficient distinction to deserve reception in the most hospitable of anthologies. Unfortunately for literature, the expression of feeling is rarely on a level with its intensity. This accounts largely for the inferiority of national hymns. As a general rule these are not of a high order from the point of view of literature; in no case that I am acquainted with are they of the highest. The patriotism of men has to supply an inspiration which the words themselves lack. As such poems almost invariably owe their origin to the excitement and emotion attending some passing moment or movement there is little chance of their ever being produced to order; for though the order for the poetry may be pecuniarily high, the result is little likely to be of a high order of poetry.
The best of our own national hymnsin fact, the only one worth mentioning for its verseis The Star-Spangled Banner. This need not fear comparison on its literary merits with other productions of this class; but it is hopelessly handicapped by being set to a tune, in part of which no respect is paid to the capabilities of the ordinary human voice. This is all the more to be regretted, because it has led to the frequent employment by us of the distinctively English national air as if it were our own. There is nothing more impudent in the history of plagiarism than our appropriation of God Save the King and dubbing it America. Such appropriations have not been uncommon with individuals; but it is apparently the first time that the act has been perpetrated by a people. It was bad enough to steal the tune; but to marry it to the feeble words which were set to it was adding insult to injury. The English poem is far from being literature of a high type. No one is likely to maintain that
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
is great poetry. But it means something. It has vigor. It is written by a man for men, and it conveys the feelings of men. But such sentimental twaddle as
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills,
such apostrophes to one's country as "sweet land of liberty," is a sort of stuff which might appeal to the feelings of a body of gushing schoolgirls, but is hopelessly out of place in the expression of fervent patriotic sentiment. The wretchedness of taste displayed by the average man is forced painfully upon the attention as a consequence of the wide acceptance which these vapid verses have attained.
No limitations beyond the consent of owners of copyright were placed upon the choice of poems to be included in this volume save that their authors must have added to their other distinctions the all-essential one of being dead. The persistence of certain persons in living has in consequence prevented me from inserting here a number of poems which I should have been particularly glad to include. Furthermore, a few pieces which I was anxious to insert have been reluctantly left out because of the inability to ascertain who the authors of them were, and in consequence whether they were alive or dead or whether they were English or American. Still, after what I have said in the earlier part of this introductory essay, no one will expect me to assume that even with the allowances that ought to be made, the selections here given will recommend themselves to the approval of all. Especially will the failure to meet the views and tastes of many show itself in the case of the more recent writers. The work of compilation would in truth have been much easier, and its outcome, so far as it went, would have been likely to prove more satisfactory, had the collection been limited to the productions of such authors as had died by the beginning of the present century. The work of our closest contemporaries is usually hardest to estimate impartially. Time has not brought sufficient familiarity of acquaintance to test, nor sufficient cumulativeness of judgment to decide upon the permanent value of what has been written. One must therefore follow one's own individual preferences. I have indeed striven desperately to find certain poems admirable which others, whose judgment I respect, much admire. In a few cases, as has been remarked already, I have sufficiently overcome the scruples of my literary conscience as to insert them; but in general the work represents my own taste or, if critics so prefer to consider it, my want of taste.
For in this volume no small number of authors of more or less note in American literature are not represented at all. These, in the opinion of some, if not of many, ought to have been included. Again, authors who have been included will be found represented by poems, which some, and perhaps many, will deem no better than others omitted, if indeed as good. It is not because the work of certain well-known names is in itself poor that they are not found here. On the contrary, it is often very goodsome of it indeed so good that an editor feels at times a doubt as to his having done wisely in letting it go unrepresented. Yet, though it may be good in general, no one production seems to stand out with so manifest superiority as to justify its insertion into an anthology. They are all excellent in their way. But each and every one of them lacks distinctiveness, not to speak of distinction, whether that distinctiveness be of pure poetry or merely that of wit or humorous observation, or quaint conceit. Still, no sensible man will venture to set up his own judgment as an infallible standard. All he can hope or reasonably expect is that the reader who regrets not to find here poems which, in his opinion, ought not to have been excluded, will take no serious exception to the large majority of those which have been included.
It remains to say one word about the methods adopted in the preparation of this volume. An effort has been made to follow, as far as practicable, the latest text which passed under the author's own supervision. This task has been rendered in most instances comparatively easy by the opportunity afforded of consulting the extraordinary and invaluable collection of the various editions of American authors which has been presented to the Yale University library by the munificence of Owen Franklin Aldis of the Class of 1874. As a result verbal alterations have been made at times from what is perhaps to many the familiar reading. These collectively are, however, neither numerous nor important. Furthermore, thanks are due in particular to the several American publishers who have granted permission to make selections from works of which they own the copyright. Without their consent the publication of this work would have been impossible.