Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (18331908). An American Anthology, 17871900. 1900.
THE READER will comprehend at once that this book was not designed as a Treasury of imperishable American poems. To make a rigidly eclectic volume would be a diversion, and sometimes I have thought to spend a few evenings in obtaining two thirds of it from pieces named in the critical essays to which the present exhibit is supplementary. In fact, more than one projector of a handbook upon the lines of Palgraves little classic has adopted the plan suggested, and has paid a like compliment to the texts revised by the editors of A Library of American Literature.
But no Treasury, however well conceived, would forestall the purpose of this compilation. It has been made, as indicated upon the title-page, in illustration of my review of the poets and poetry of our own land. It was undertaken after frequent suggestions from readers of Poets of America, and bears to that volume the relation borne by A Victorian Anthology to Victorian Poets. The companion anthologies, British and American, are meant to contain the choicest and most typical examples of the poetry of the English tongue during the years which they cover. The effective rise of American poetry was coincident with that of the Anglo-Victorian. It has been easy to show a preliminary movement, by fairly representing the modicum of verse, that has more than a traditional value, earlier than Bryants and not antedating the Republic. Again, as the foreign volume was enlarged by the inclusion of work produced since the Jubilee Year, so this one extends beyond the course surveyed in 1885, and to the present time. This should make it, in a sense, the breviary of our national poetic legacies from the nineteenth century to the twentieth. Now that it is finished, it seems, to the compiler at least, to afford a view of the successive lyrical motives and results of our first hundred years of song, from which the critic or historian may derive conclusions and possibly extend his lines into the future.
When entering upon my task, I cheerfully assumed that it would be less difficult than the one preceding it; for I had traversed much of this home-field in prose essays, and once again,aided by the fine judgment of a colleague,while examining the whole range of American literature before 1890. Many poets, however, then not essential to our purpose, are quoted here. More space has been available in a work devoted to verse alone. Other things being equal, I naturally have endeavored, though repeating lyrics established by beauty or association, to make fresh selections. While verse of late has decreased its vogue as compared with that of imaginative prose, yet never has so much of it, good and bad, been issued here as within the present decade; never before were there so many rhythmical aspirants whose volumes have found publishers willing to bring them out attractively, and never have these tasteful ventures had more assurance of a certain, if limited, distribution. The time required for some acquaintance with them has not seemed to me misspent; yet the work of selection was slight compared with that of obtaining privileges from authors and book-houses, insuring correctness of texts and biographical data, and mastering the countless other details of this presentation. My forbearing publishers have derived little comfort from its successive postponements in consequence of these exigencies and of the editors ill health. The delay, however, has rounded up more evenly my criticism and illustration of English poetry, carrying to the centurys end this last volume of a series so long ago projected.
The anthologist well may follow the worker in mosaic or stained-glass, to better his general effects. Humble bits, low in color, have values of juxtaposition, and often bring out to full advantage his more striking material. The representation of a leading poet is to be considered by itself, and it is a pleasure to obtain for it a prelude and an epilogue, and otherwise to secure a just variety of mood and range. I have allotted many pages to the chiefs reviewed at chapter-length in Poets of America, yet even as to these space is not a sure indication of the compilers own feeling. An inclusion of nearly all the effective lyrics of Poe, and of enough of Emerson to show his translunary spirit at full height, still left each of these antipodal bards within smaller confines than are given to Longfellow,the peoples artist of the beautiful through half a century of steadfast production, or to Whittierthe born balladist, whose manner and purport could not be set forth compactly. Similar disproportions may appear in citation from poets less known, the effort being to utilize matter best suited to the general design. Time is the test of all traditions, even those of ones own propagating. We still canonize as our truest poets men who rose to eminence when poetry overtopped other literary interests, and whose lives were devoted to its production. Yet there was an innocent tyranny in the extension of the prerogative accorded to the elder poets throughout the best days of a worshipful younger generation. The genius of new-comers might have been more compulsive if less overshadowed, and if less subject to the restrictions of an inauspicious periodthat of the years immediately before and after the Civil War. Their output I have exhibited somewhat freely, as seemed the due of both the living and the dead. To the latter it may be the last tribute by one of their own kith and kin; to all, a tribute justly theirs whose choice it was to pursue an art upon which they had been bred and from its chiefs had learned beauty, reverence, aspiration,but which they practised almost to alien ears. Not only their colleagues, but those that should have been their listeners, had perished, North and South. To the older members of this circle,those born in the twenties, and thus falling within the closing division of the First Period,even too little space has been allotted: the facts being that not until the Second Period was reached could an estimate be formed of the paging required for the entire book, and that then the selections already in type could not be readjusted.
A veteran author, Dr. English, recalls an assurance to the editor of American compilations famous in the day of Poe and the Literati, that his sins, much as he had incurred the wrath of the excluded, were not of omission but of commission. Dr. Griswold performed an historical if not a critical service; he had a measure of conscience withal, else Poe would not have chosen him for a literary executor. But if this anthology were modelled upon his Poets and Poetry of America it would occupy a shelf of volumes. I have not hesitated to use any fortunate poem, howsoever unpromising its source. A ruby is a ruby, on the forehead of a Joss or found in the garment of a pilgrim. Here and there are included verses by masterful personages not writers by profession, and the texts of hymns, patriotic lyrics, and other memorabilia that have quality. As befits an anthology, selections mostly are confined to poems in their entirety, but the aim is to represent a poet variously and at his best; sometimes this cannot be achieved otherwise than by extracts from long poems,by episodes, or other passages effective in themselves. The reader will find but a few extended Odes other than Lowells Commemoration Ode and Stoddards majestic monody on Lincoln, either of which it would be criminal here to truncate. In the foreign compendium there was little to present in the dramatic form, and that not often of a high order; from this volume dramatic dialogueregretfully in cases like those of Boker and Tayloris excluded altogether, with the exception of an essential specimen in the prefatory division; but lyrical interludes from dramas are not infrequent. As to sonnets, one often finds them the most serviceable expression of a minor poet. The sonnets of two or three Americans take rank with the best of their time, but I have tried to avoid those of the everyday grade. Finally, whatsoever a poets standing or the class of selections, my tests are those of merit and anthological value, and the result should be judged accordingly. There is no reception more distrustful, not to say cynical, than that awarded nowadays to a presentment of the artistic effort of ones own time and people. An editor must look upon this as in the nature of things, happy if he can persuade his readers to use their own glasses somewhat objectively. With regard to a foreign field personal and local equations have less force, and to this no doubt I owe the good fortune that thus far little exception has been taken to the selection and range of material used for A Victorian Anthology.
This brings to mind a departure in the following pages from the divisional arrangement of the last-named compilation. Essaying almost every method of setting forth our own poets, I found it impossible to follow the one which before had worked so aptly. A chronological system proved to be not merely the best, but seemingly the only one, applicable to my new needs.
The ease wherewith the British record permitted a classified arrangement was a pleasure to the orderly mind. It crystallized into groups, each animated by a master, or made distinct by the fraternization of poets with tastes in common. Whether this betokened an advanced or a provincial condition may be debatable, and the test of any set doubtless involves the measure of self-consciousness. Surveying the formative portion of the Victorian era it was easy to find the Roisterers, the Poets of Quality, the several flocks of English, Scottish, and Irish minstrels, the Rhapsodists, the Humanitarians, all preceding the composite idyllic schoolthat with Tennyson at its head. With and after Tennyson came the renaissance of the Preraphaelites, and also new balladists, song-writers, a few dramatists, the makers of verse-a-la-mode, and so on to the times end. From all this, distinct in the receding past, it was possible to map out a cartograph as logical as the prose survey which it illustrates. But when the latter-day verse-makers were reached, an effort to assort them had to be foregone, and not so much from lack of perspective as because, with few exceptions, they revealed more traits in common than in differentiation. It would be too much to expect that subsequent to the Victorian prime and the going out of its chief luminaries there should not be an interval of twilightwith its scattered stars, the Hespers of the past, the Phosphors of a day to come. The earlier groups were discernible, and reviewed by me, in their full activity; at present, when prose fiction, instead of verse, is the characteristic imaginative product, it is not hard to point out its various orders and working-guilds.
A derogatory inference need not be drawn from the failure of attempts to classify the early and later singers of our own land. Poetry led other forms of our literature during at least forty years,say from 1835 to 1875. Nevertheless, like many observers, I found scarcely a group, except that inspired by the Transcendental movement, of more import than an occasional band such as the little set of Croakers when New York was in its teens. With the exception of Poe, the dii majores, as they have been termed, alike were interpreters of nature, sentiment, patriotism, religion, conviction, though each obtained mark by giving accentuated expression to one or two of these fundamental American notes. With the added exceptions of Whitman and Lanier, and of Lowell in his dialect satire, the leaders methods and motives have had much in common, and the names excepted were not initiative of schools. There were a few exemplars, chiefly outside of New England, of the instinct for poetry as an expression of beauty, and of feeling rather than of the convictions which so readily begat didacticism; yet for decades the choir of minor poets have pursued their art in the spirit of the leaders and have availed themselves of the same measures and diction.
Variances of the kind arising from conditions of locality and atmosphere have always been apparent. An approach can be made to a natural arrangement by geographical division somewhat upon the lines of Mr. Piatts illustrated quarto, in which the lyrics and idylls of the Eastern States, the Middle, the Southern, the regions of the Middle West and the Pacific Slope, are successively exhibited. Until of late, however, the population and literature of the country were so restricted to the Atlantic seaboard that this method excites a sense of disproportion none the less unpleasing for its fidelity to the record. Thus by a process of exclusion the one satisfactory order proved to be the chronological; this being of the greater value since national evolution is more fully reflected in the poetry of American than in that of countries, further advanced in the arts, wherein lyrical expression has derived importance from its literary worth rather than from its might as the voice of the people. If it is difficult to assort our poets of any one time into classes it chances that they are significantly classified by generations. The arrangement of this volume thus depends upon its time-divisions, of which the sequence can be traced by a glance at the preliminary Table of Contents.
Colonial verse, howsoever witty, learned, and godly, is beyond the purview; and well it may be, if only in obeisance to the distich of that rare old colonist, Nathaniel Ward, who tells us in The Simple Cobbler of Agawam, that
Poetry s a gift wherein but few excel;
He doth very ill that doth not passing well.
Those who wish glimpses of life in New England after the forefathers were measurably adjusted to new conditions, may acquaint themselves with the lively eclogues of our first native poet, Ben Tompson. They will find nothing else so clever untila hundred years laterthey come upon the verse of Mistress Warren, the measures grave and gay of Francis Hopkinson, the sturdy humor of Trumbull and his fellow-wits. Barlows Columbiad certainly belonged to neither an Homeric nor an Augustan age. Contemporary with its begetter was a true poet, one of natures lyrists, who had the temperament of a Landor and was much what the Warwick classicist might have been if bred, afar from Oxford, to the life of a pioneer and revolutionist, spending his vital surplusage in action, bellicose journalism, and new-world verse. A few of Freneaus selector songs and ballads long have been a part of literature, and with additions constitute my first gleanings of what was genuinely poetic in the years before Bryant earned his title as the father of American song. In that preliminary stage, an acting-drama began with Tyler and Dunlap and should have made better progress in the half-century ensuing. A dialect-ballad of the time, The Country-Lovers, by Fessenden of New Hampshire, though unsuited to this Anthology, is a composition from which Lowell seems to have precipitated the native gold of The Courtin. Apart from these I think that sufficient, if not all, of what the opening years have to show of poetic value or association may be found in the selections from Freneau and others earlier than the First Lyrical Period,a period which Pierpont, despite his birth-record, is entitled to lead off, considering the date of his first publications and the relation of his muse to an heroic future.
Accepting the advent of Bryant and Pierpont as the outset of a home minstrelsy which never since has failed of maintenance, our course hitherto divides itself readily into two periods, with the Civil War as a transitional rest between. The First ends with that national metamorphosis of which the impassioned verse of a few writers, giving no uncertain sound, was the prophecy and inspiration. The antecedent struggle was so absorbing that any conception of poetry as an art to be pursued for its own sake was at best not current; yet beauty was not infrequent in the strain of even the anti-slavery bards, and meanwhile one American singer was giving it his entire allegiance. Before reverting to these antebellum conditions, it should be noted that a Second Period began with the war olympiad, lasting to a date that enables a compiler to distinguish its stronger representatives until the beginning of the centurys final decade. To complete the survey I add a liberal aftermath of verse produced in these last ten years; for it seems worth while to favor a rather inclusive chartage of the tendencies, even the minor currents and eddies, which the poetry of our younger writers reveals to those who care for it. As to omitted names, I reflect that their bearers well may trust to anthologists of the future, rather than to have lines embalmed here for which in later days they may not care to be held to account.
The sub-divisions of each of the lyrical periods,covering, as to the First Period, three terms of about fifteen years each, and as to the Second, three of ten years each, represent literary generations, some of which so overlap one another as to be in a sense contemporary. Finally, the Additional Selections at the end of every sub-division, and succeeding the preliminary and supplementary pages, are for the most part chronologically ordered as concerns any specific group of poems. These addenda have afforded a serviceable means of preserving notable single poems, and of paying attention to not a few unpretentious writers who, while uttering true notes, have obeyed Wordsworths injunction to shine in their places and be content.
When I told a New York publishera University man, whose judgment is well entitled to respectthat I had this book in mind as the final number of a series and as a companion to the British volume, he replied off-hand: You cannot make it half so good as the other: we have nt the material. This I was not ready to dispute, yet was aware of having entertained a feeling, since writing Poets of America, that if a native anthology must yield to the foreign one in wealth of choice production, it might prove to be, from an equally vital point of view, the more significant of the two. Now having ended my labor, that feeling has become a belief which possibly may be shared by others willing to consider the grounds of its formation.
In demurring to what certainly is a general impression, the first inquiry must be: What then constitutes the significance of a body of rhythmical literature as found in either of these anthologies, each restricted to its own territory, and both cast in the same epoch and language? Undoubtedly, and first of all, the essential quality of its material as poetry; next to this, its quality as an expression and interpretation of the time itself. In many an era the second factor may afford a surer means of estimate than the first, inasmuch as the purely literary result may be nothing rarer than what the world already has possessed, nor greatly differing from it; nevertheless, it may be the voice of a time, of a generation, of a people,all of extraordinary import to the worlds future. A new constructive standard was set by Tennyson, with increase rather than reduction of intellectual power, but shortly before the art of the laureate and his school there was little to choose in technical matters between English and American rhythmists, Landor always excepted. Since the Georgian hey-day, imagination of the creative order scarcely has been dominant, nor is it so in any composite and idyllic era. Our own poetry excels as a recognizable voice in utterance of the emotions of a people. The storm and stress of youth have been upon us, and the nation has not lacked its lyric cry; meanwhile the typical sentiments of piety, domesticity, freedom, have made our less impassioned verse at least sincere. One who underrates the significance of our literature, prose or verse, as both the expression and the stimulant of national feeling, as of import in the past and to the future of America, and therefore of the world, is deficient in that critical insight which can judge even of its own day unwarped by personal taste or deference to public impression. He shuts his eyes to the fact that at times, notably throughout the years resulting in the Civil War, this literature has been a force. Its verse until the dominance of prose fictionwell into the seventies, let us sayformed the staple of current reading; and fortunate it waswhile pirated foreign writings, sold cheaply everywhere, handicapped the evolution of a native prose schoolthat the books of the elder American poets lay on the centre-tables of our households and were read with zest by young and old. They were not the fosterers of new-world liberty and aspiration solely; beyond this, in the case of Longfellow for example, the legends read between the lines made his verse as welcome in Great Britain as among his own country-folk. The criterion of poetry is not its instant vogue with the ill-informed classes; yet when it is the utterance of an ardent people, as in the works of Longfellow, Bryant, Emerson, Lowell, Whittier, it once more assumes its ancient and rightful place as the art originative of belief and deed. Emerson presented such a union of spiritual and civic insight with dithyrambic genius as may not be seen again. His thought is now congenital throughout vast reaches, among new peoples scarcely conscious of its derivation. The transcendentalists, as a whole, for all their lapses into didacticism, made and left an impress. Longfellow and his pupils, for their part, excited for our people the old-world sense of beauty and romance, until they sought for a beauty of their own and developed a new literary mannertouched by that of the motherland, yet with a difference; the counterpart of that national likeness so elusive, yet so instantly recognized when chanced upon abroad. In Bryant, often pronounced cold and granitic by readers bred to the copious-worded verse of modern times, is found the large imagination that befits a progenitor. It was stirred, as that of no future American can be, by his observation of primeval nature. He saw her virgin mountains, rivers, forests, prairies, broadly; and his vocabulary, scant and doric as it was, proved sufficientin fact the bestfor natures elemental bard. His master may have been Wordsworth, but the difference between the two is that of the prairie and the moor, Ontario and Windermere, the Hudson and the Wye. From Thanatopsis in his youth to The Flood of Years in his hoary age, Bryant was conscious of the overstress of Nature unmodified by human occupation and training. It is not surprising that Whitmanthough it was from Emerson he learned to follow his own geniusso often expressed himself as in sympathy with Bryant, above other American poets, on the imaginative side. The elemental quality of the two is what makes them akin; what differentiates them is not alone their styles, but the advance of Whitmans generation from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous. The younger minstrel, to use his own phrase, also saw things en masse; but in his day and vision the synthesis of the new world was that of populous hordes surging here and there in the currents of democracy. Bryant is the poet of the ages, Whitman of the generations. The æsthetic note of poetry was restored by Longfellow, in his Vergilian office, and by Edgar Poe with surer magic and endurance. Has any singer of our time more demonstrably affected the rhythmical methods of various lands than Poe with his few but haunting paradigms? He gave a saving grace of melody and illusion to French classicism, to English didactics,to the romance of Europe from Italy to Scandinavia. It is now pretty clear, notwithstanding the popularity of Longfellow in his day, that Emerson, Poe, and Whitman were those of our poets from whom the old world had most to learn; such is the worth, let the young writer note, of seeking inspiration from within, instead of copying the exquisite achievements of masters to whom we all resort for edification,that is, for our own delight, which is not the chief end of the artists throes. Our three most individual minstrels are now the most alive, resembling one another only in having each possessed the genius that originates. Years from now, it will be matter of fact that their influences were as lasting as those of any poets of this century.
The polemic work of Whittier, Lowell, and their allies, illustrates the applied force of lyrical expression. Their poetry of agitation scarcely found a counterpart on the Southern side until the four-years conflict began; yet any study of the causes and conduct of that war confirms our respect for Fletchers sage who cared to make the ballads of a nation rather than its laws. His saying never applies more shrewdly than at the stage of a nations formation when the slightest deflection must needs be the equivalent of a vast arc in the circle of its futurity. It is strange to realize that the young now view the Civil War from a distance almost equal to that between their seniors childhood and the war of 1812the veterans of which we watched with kindly humor when their lessening remnant still kept up its musty commemorations. Our youth know the immeasurably larger scope of the mid-century struggle; they cannot understand from the echo of its trumpetings the music of a time when one half of a people fought for a moral sentiment,the other, for a birthright which pride would not forego. Even the motherland, though gaining a fresh view from that convulsion and its outcome, formed no adequate understanding of her progeny over sea. Years go by, and the oceans are held in common, and the world is learning that our past foretokened a new domain in art, letters, and accomplishment, of which we have barely touched the order. Making every allowance for the gratia hospitum, a recent visitor, William Archer, need not fear to stand by what he had the perception to discover and the courage to declare. In his judgment, the whole world will one day come to hold Vicksburg and Gettysburg names of larger historic import than Waterloo or Sedan. If this be so, the significance of a literature of all kinds that led up to the sudden making of those splendid names is not to be gainsaid. Mr. Howells aptly has pointed out that war does not often add to great art or poetry, but the white heat of lyric utterance has preceded many a campaign, and never more effectively than in the years before our fight for what Mr. Archer calls the preservation of the national idea. Therefore an American does not seem to me a laudable reader who does not estimate the following presentation in the full light of all that his country has been, is, and is to be.
Time has not clouded, but cleared, the lenses through which our neophytes regard those distant movements so fully in accord with the modern spirit as Poes renaissance of art for beautys sake, and Whitmans revolt against social and literary traditions. The academic vantage no less held its own with Parsons and Holmes as maintainers,the former our purest classicist, and a translator equalled only by Bayard Taylor. The stately elegance of Parsons limited his audience, yet perfected the strength of his ode On a Bust of Dante, than which no finer lyric ennobles this collection. Holmess grace, humor, contemporaneousness, brought him into favor again and again, and the closing days of a sparkling career were the most zestful for the acknowledged master of new architects of airy rhyme on each side of the Atlantic. In Lowell, the many-sided, the best equipped, and withal the most spontaneous, of these worthies, their traits were combined. Never was there a singer at once so learned and so unstudied; no other American took the range that lies between the truth and feeling of his dialect verse and the height of his national odes.
This is not a critical Introduction, and the writer need not dwell upon the shortcomings of our still famous matin choir. These were discussed in commentaries that differ very little from what they would be if written now, though after this farther lapse of time I might not enter upon such judgments with the glow and interest of the earlier years, when those hoar and laurelled heads still shone benignantly above us.
Along the centurys midway, a group of somewhat younger poets appeared, whose places of birth or settlement rendered them less subject to the homiletic mood which even Lowell recognized as his own besetting drawback. Taylor, Boker, Stoddard, Read, Story, and their allies, wrote poetry for the sheer love of it. They did much beautiful work, with a cosmopolitan and artistic bent, making it a part of the varied industry of men of letters; in fact, they were creating a civic Arcadia of their own,but then came the tempest that sent poets and preachers alike to the storm-cellars, and certainly made roundelays seem inapposite as the pleasing of a lute. Yet my expositions of the then current writers, taken with the sheaf of popular war-songs, Northern and Southern, bound up in a single section, prove that the fury of the fight called forth inspiring strains. Some of these were as quickly caught up by the public as were the best known efforts of the laureate of Anglo-Saxon expansion in a recent day. On the whole, the stern and dreadful war for the Union produced its due share of the lays of heroism and endeavor. But then, as oftentimes, pieces that outrivalled others were wont to have the temporal quality that does not make for an abiding place among the little classics of absolute song.
As the country slowly emerged from the shadow, its elder bards hung up their clarions, and betook themselves to the music of contentment and peace. Their heirs apparent were few and scattered; encouragement was small during years of reconstruction, and without the stimulus of a literary market; yet the exhibit in the first division of the post-bellum period shows that song had a share in the awakening of new emotional and æsthetic expression. Fifteen or twenty years more, and a resort to letters as a means of subsistence was well under way,and like a late spring, vigorous when once it came. Poets, in spite of the proverb, sing best when fed by wage or inheritance. The progress of American journals, magazines, and the book-trade coincided with a wider extension of readers than we had known before. Such a condition may not foster the creative originality that comes at the price of blood and tears, but it has resulted in a hopeful prelude to whatsoever masterwork the next era has in store. The taste, charm, and not infrequent elevation of the verse contained in the three divisions of the second portion of this compilation render that portion, in its own way, a fit companion to the series preceding it. One must forego tradition to recognize this; in the Hall of Letters, as in Congress and wherever a levelling-up movement has prevailed, talent is less conspicuous by isolation than of old. The main distinction between the two Periods is a matter of dynamics; the second has had less to do with public tendencies and events. It has had none the less a force of its own: that of the beauty and enlightenment which shape the ground for larger offices hereafter, by devotees possibly no more gifted than their forbears, yet farther up the altar steps. In its consistency, tested by what went before, it stands comparison as reasonably as the product of the later Victorian artificers, when gauged by that of Tennyson, Arnold, the Brownings, and their colleagues.
It is not my province to specify the chief writers of this Period, so many of whom are still with us. As the country has grown, the Eastern song-belt has widened, and other divisions have found voice. The middle West quickly had poets to depict its broad and plenteous security; and more lately very original notes have come from territory bordering upon the Western Lakes. The Pacific coast and the national steppes and ranges as yet scarcely have found adequate utterance, though not without a few open-air minstrels. Dialect and folk-lore verse represents the new South; its abundant talent has been concerned otherwise with prose romance; yet the song of one woman, in a border State, equals in beauty that of any recent lyrist. American poets still inherit longevity. Since the premature death of the thrice-lamented Taylorat a moment when he was ready to begin the life of Goethe which none could doubt would be a consummate worka few others have gone that should have died hereafter. Sill was a sweet and wise diviner, of a type with Clough and Arnold. OReilly is zealously remembered, both the poet and the man. In Emma Lazarus a star went out, the western beacon of her oriental race. When Sidney Lanier died, not only the South that bore him, but the country and our English rhythm underwent the loss of a rare beingone who was seeking out the absolute harmony, and whose experiments, incipient as they were, were along the pathways of discovery. Eugene Fields departure lessened our laughter, wit, and tears. In the present year, Hovey, whom the new century seemed just ready to place among its choristers, was forbidden to outlive the completion of the intensely lyrical Taliesin, his melodious swan-song.
To end this retrospect, it may be said that the imaginative faculty, of which both the metrical and the prose inventions alike were termed poetry by the ancients, has not lain dormant in the centurys last quarter; although certain conditions, recognized in the opening chapter of Victorian Poets as close at hand, have obtained beyond doubt. The rhythm of verse is less essayed than that of prosenow the vehicle of our most favored craftsmen. Already books are written to show how an evolution of the novel has succeeded to that of the poem, which is trueand in what wise prose fiction is the higher form of literature, which is not yet proved. The novelist has outsped the poet in absorbing a new ideality conditioned by the advance of science; again, he has cleverly adjusted his work to the facilities and drawbacks of modern journalism. It is not strange that there should be a distaste for poetic illusion in an era when economics, no longer the dismal science, becomes a more fascinating study than letters, while its teachers have their fill of undergraduate hero-worship. At last a change is perceptible at the universities, a strengthening in the faculties of English, a literary appetite that grows by what it feeds on. Letters, and that consensus of poetry and science foreseen by Wordsworth, may well be taken into account in any vaticination of the early future. Meanwhile, what do we have? Here as abroadand even if for the moment there appears no one of those excepted masters who of themselves re-create their agethere continues an exercise of the poets art by many whose trick of song persists under all conditions. Our after-glow is not discouraging. We have a twilight interval, with minor voices and their tentative modes and tones; still, the dusk is not silent, and rest and shadow with music between the dawns are a part of the liturgy of life, no less than passion and achievement.
The reader will hardly fail to observe special phases of the middle and later portions of this compilation. In my reviews of the home-school a tribute was paid to the high quality of the verse proffered by our countrywomen. This brought out a witticism to the effect that such recognition would savor less of gallantry if more than a page or two, in so large a volume, had been reserved for expatiation upon the tuneful sisterhood. That book was composed of essays upon a group of elder poets, among whom no woman chanced to figure. A single chapter embraced a swift characterization of the choir at large, and in this our female poets obtained proportional attention as aforesaid. The tribute was honest, and must be rendered by any one who knows the field. A succession of rarely endowed women-singers, that begannot to go back to the time of Maria Brooksnear the middle of the century, still continues unbroken. Much of their song has been exquisite, some of it strong as sweet; indeed, a notable portion of our treasure-trove would be missing if their space in the present volume were otherwise filled. Not that by force of numbers and excellence women bear off the chief trophies of poetry, prose fiction, and the other arts; thus far the sexs achievements, in a time half seriously styled the womans age, are still more evident elsewhere. It cannot yet be said of the Parnassian temple, as of the Church, that it would have no parishioners, and the service no participants, if it were not for women. The work of their brother poets is not emasculate, and will not be while grace and tenderness fail to make men cowards, and beauty remains the flower of strength. Yet for assurance of the fact that their contribution to the song of America is remarkable, and even more so than it has beenleaving out the work of Elizabeth Browningto that of Great Britain, one need only examine its representation in this anthology. I am not so adventurous as to mention names, but am confident that none will be ungrateful for my liberal selections from the verse upon the quality of which the foregoing statement must stand or fall.
Poetry being a rhythmical expression of emotion and ideality, its practice as a kind of artistic finesse is rightly deprecated, though even this may be approved in the young composer unconsciously gaining his mastery of technique. Our recent verse has been subjected to criticism as void of true passion, nice but fickle in expression, and having nothing compulsive to express. An international journal declares that our poets are not thinking of what they shall say, for that lies close at hand, but of how they shall say it. On the whole, I suspect this to be more true abroad than here: our own metrists, if the less dexterous, are not without motive. There was said to be a lack of vigorous lyrics on the occasion of our war with Spain. The world-changing results of the war will find their artistic equivalent at sudden times when the observer, like Keatss watcher of the skies, sees the new planet swim into his kenor at least finds this old planet made anew. Anglo-Saxon expansion or imperialism, call it as we will, has inspired one British poet, yet he is so much more racial than national that America claims a share in him. As for our poetry of the Spanish war, I think that sufficient will be found in my closing pages to indicate that our quickstep was enlivened by a reasonable measure of prosody. The Civil War was a different matterpreceded by years of excitement, and at last waged with gigantic conflicts and countless tragic interludes, until every home was desolate, North or South. Men and women still survive whowith Brownell, Willson, and others of the deadmade songs and ballads that, as I have said, were known the world over. Why should these veteran celebrants decline upon lesser themes, or not stand aside and let the juniors have their chance? The latter had scarcely tuned their strings when the Spanish fight was over. Still more to the point is the fact that poets of all time have been on the side of revolt. Our own, however patriotic, when there was so little of tragedy and the tug of war to endure, felt no exultation in chanting a feeble enemys deathsong.
In any intermediary lyrical period its effect upon the listener is apt to be one of experiment and vacillation. It is true that much correct verse is written without inspiration, and as an act of taste. The makers seem artists, rather than poets: they work in the spirit of the graver and decorator; even as idyllists their appeal is to the bodily eye; they are over-careful of the look of words, and not only of their little pictures, but of the frames that contain them,book-cover, margin, paper, adornment. That lyrical compositions should go forth in attractive guise is delectable, but not the one thing needful for the true poet, whose strength lies in that which distinguishes him from other artists, not in what is common to all. While making a fair presentation of the new modes and tendencies of the now somewhat timorous art of song, a guess at what may come out of them is far more difficult than were the prognostications of thirty years ago. Each phase has its own little grace or effect, like those of the conglomerate modern piano-music. Among those less rational than others I class attempts to introduce values absolutely exotic. The contention for a broad freedom in the chief of arts is sound. It may prove all things, and that which is good will stay. Owing to our farther remove from the European continent, foreign methods are essayed with us less sedulously than by the British minor poets. Both they and we were successful in a passing adoption of the French forms, which, pertaining to construction chiefly, are common to various literatures. In attempting to follow the Gallic cadences and linguistic effects our kinsmen were bound to fail. Our own craftsmen even less have been able to capture graces quite inseparable from the specific rhythm, color, diction, that constitute the highly sensuous beauty of the modern French school. A painter, sculptor, or architecthis medium of expression being a universal onecan utilize foreign methods, if at a loss for something of his own. But there has not been an English-speaking captive to the bewitchment of the French rhythm and symbolism who has not achieved far less than if he had held fast to the resources of his native tongue. Literatures lend things of worth to one another, but only as auxiliaries and by gradual stages. Between the free carol of the English lyric, from the Elizabethan to the Victorian, and the noble variations of English blank verse in its every age and vogue, our poets have liberties enow, and will rarely go afield except under suspicion of reinforcing barren invention with a novel garniture. The technique of the lyrical Symbolists, for instance, is at best a means rather than an end. Though pertinent to the French language and spirit, it is apt, even in France and Belgium, to substitute poetic material for creative design. That very language is so constituted that we cannot transmute its essential genius; those who think otherwise do not think in French, and even an imperfect appreciation of the tongue, and of its graces and limitations, should better inform them. Titles also are misleading: every poet is a symbolist in the radical sense, but not for the sake of the symbol. The glory of English poetry lies in its imagination and in its strength of thought and feeling. Deliberate artifices chill the force of spontaneity; but at the worst we have the certainty of their automatic correction by repeated failures.
Even as concerns the homely, slighted shepherds trade, there is a gain in having our escape from provincialism indicated by distrust of inapt models, and through an appeal to our own constituency rather than to the outer world. The intermingling of peoples has qualified Binney Wallaces saying that a foreign nation is a kind of contemporaneous posterity. The question as to a British or American production now must be, What is the verdict of the English-speaking world? To that vast jury the United States now contributes the largest contingent of intelligent members. Our poets who sing for their own countrymen will not go far wrong, whether or not they bear in mind the quest for local color,as to which it can be averred that our elder group honestly expressed the nature, life, sentiment, of its seacoast habitat, the oldest and therefore most American portion of this country. Younger settlements have fallen into line, with new and unmistakable qualities of diction, character, atmosphere. Our kinsmen, in their pursuit of local color, more or less deceive themselves; with all its human zest, it is but a secondary value in art, though work surcharged with it is often good of its kind, while higher efforts are likely to fall short. When found, we sometimes fail to recognize it, or care no more for it than for those provincial newspapers which are so racy to native readers and so tedious to the sojourner. What foreigners really long for is something radically new and creative. In any case, praise or dispraise from abroad is now of less import than the judgment of that land in which a work is produced. The method and spirit peculiar to a region make for an addition to literature, but a work conveying them must have the universal cast to be enduring, though its author waits the longer for recognition. But this was always so; the artist gains his earliest satisfaction from the comprehension of his won guild. Time and his measure of worth may do the rest for him.
A public indifference to the higher forms of poetry is none the less hard to bear. A collective edition of an admired poets lifework, with not a line in its volumes that is not melodious, or elegant, or imaginative, or all combined, and to which he has applied his mature and fastidious standards, appears without being made the subject of gratulation or extended review. A fresh and noble lyric, of some established order, gains small attention, while fetching trifles are taken up by the press. If a fair equivalent of the Ode to a Nightingale were now to come into print, a reviewer of the magazine containing it doubtless might content himself with saying: There is also a poem by Mr. . But this, after all, in its stolid fashion may betoken a preference for something revelatory of the infinite unexplored domain of poetic values; a sense that we have a sufficiency of verse which, however fine, is conformed to typical masterpieces; a desire for variants in creative beauty to stimulate us until they each, in turn, shall also pass into an academic grade.
In offering this final volume of a series that has diverted me from projects more in the humor of the hour, I feel a touch of that depression which follows a long task, and almost ask whether it has been worth completion. Would not the labor have been better expended, for example, upon criticism of our prose fiction? The muse sits neglected, if not forspent, in the hemicycle of the arts:
Dark Science broods in Fancys hermitage,
The rainbow fades,and hushed they say is Song
With those high bards who lingering charmed the age
Ere one by one they joined the statued throng.
Yet after this verification of my early forecast, why should not the subsidiary predictionthat of poesys return to dignity and favorno less prove true? As it is, having gone too far to change for other roads, I followed the course whether lighted by the setting or the rising sun. Concerning the nature and survival of poetry much is said in view of the apparent condition. Song is conceded to be the language of youth, the voice of primitive races,whence an inference that its service in the English tongue is near an end. But surely poetry is more than the analogue of even those folk-songs to which composers recur in aftertime and out of them frame masterpieces. Its function is continuous with the rhythm to which emotion, age after age, must resort for a supreme delivery,the vibration that not only delights the soul of infancy, but quavers along the heights of reason and intelligence.
If the word lost can be applied to any one of the arts, it is to poetry last of all. Not so long ago it was linked with sculpture, now the crowning triumph of a worlds exposition. We must be slow to claim for any century supereminence as the poetic age. Our own country, to return, has not been that of a primitive people, colonial or under the republic; and among all peoples once emerged from childhood modes of expression shift in use and favor, and there are many rounds of youth, prime, and decadence. Spring comes and goes and comes again, while each season has its own invention or restoration. The new enlightenment must be taken above all into account. The world is too interwelded to afford many more examples of a decline like Spains,in whose case the comment that a nation of lute-players could never whip a nation of machinists was not a cynicism but a study in ethnology. Her lustration probably was essential to a new departure; while as for America, she has indeed her brawn and force, but is only entering upon her song, nor does a brood of minor poets imply that she has passed a climacteric. It will be long before our people need fear even the springtime enervation of their instinctive sense of beauty, now more in evidence with every year.
More likely they have not yet completed a single round, inasmuch as there has been thus far so little of the indubitably dramatic in our rhythmical production. The poetic drama more than once has marked a culmination of imaginative literature. Constructively, it is the highest form of poetry, because it includes all others metrical or recitative; psychologically, still the highest, going beyond the epic presentment of external life and action: not only rendering deeds, but setting bare the workings of the soul. I believe that, later than Shakespeares day, the height of utterance in his mode and tongue is not of the past, but still to be attained by us. Thus poetry is indeed the spirit and voice of youth, but the thought of sages, and of every age. Our own will have its speech again, and as much more quickly than after former periods of disuse as the processes of action and reaction speed swiftlier than of old. To one bred to look before and after this talk of atrophy seems childish, when he bears in mind what lifeless stretches preceded the Miltonic and the Georgian outbursts. A pause, a rest, has been indicated, at this time especially innocuous and the safeguard against cloying; meantime our new-fledged genius has not been listless, but testing the wing in fields outside the lyric hedgerows. In the near future the world, and surely its alertest and most aspiring country, will not lack for poets. Whatsoever the prognosis, one thing is to be gained from a compilation of the songs of many: this or that singer may be humble, an everyday personage among his fellows, but in his verse we have that better part of nature which overtops the evil in us all, and by the potency of which a race looks forward that else would straggle to the rear.
Compact Biographical Notes upon all the poets represented, as in A Victorian Anthology, follow the main text of this book. They have been prepared by various hands, and revised by the editoroccasionally with a brief comment upon some name too recent to be found in the critical volume, Poets of America.
For texts I have depended upon my own shelves, the public libraries, and the private stores of Mr. R. H. Stoddard and other colleagues. Acknowledgment is made to Mr. C. Alexander Nelson, of Columbia University, and to Mr. Robert Bridges, for repeated courtesies. Important aid has been derived from the Librarian of Brown University, Mr. Harry Lyman Koopman, and from the Harris-Anthony collection of American poetry within his charge. There is an enviable opportunity for the friends of this notable collection to place it beyond rivalry by filling in many of its gaps, and by making copious additions from the output of the last twenty years.
Throughout two years occupied with the main portion of the compilation, a time of frequent disability, I have owed much to the unstinted and competent service of Miss Ella M. Boult, B. L., who has been in every sense my assistant-editor,not only as to matters of routine, but in the exercise of literary judgment. In correspondence, proof-reading, and textual revision, Miss Laura Stedman has been a zealous subordinate, and has paid special attention to the Biographical Notes. Many of the latter have been written by Miss Lucy C. Bull (now Mrs. Robinson) and Miss Beatrix D. Lloyd. At the inception of my task, I was aided by Miss Mary Stuart McKinney and Miss Louise Boynton, A. B. Miss McKinney, who had previous experience in connection with the Victorian Anthology, was the valued assistant-editor of the opening division of the present collection.
The attention of compilers and others is directed to the list of proprietary books and writings, under the copyright notices which follow the title-page. This anthology could not be issued without the friendly coöperation of American publishers, and pains has been taken to conserve their rights by legal specification at the outset, and in some instances by notices elsewhere. Where it has been doubtful whether rights exist, and, if so, under what ownership, the editor relies upon the indulgence of all concerned. My thanks are due to living authors, and to the heirs of the dead, for placing works at my disposal without restriction as to the character or extent of citations. The verse of one American writer, now living abroad, has been omitted at his own request. One or two Canadian poets, whose residence and service are now on this side of the border, are justly in such favor that I would seek to represent them here were not their songs and ballads already a choice portion of a Colonial division in the British compilation.
LAWRENCE PARK, BRONXVILLE, NEW YORK, August, 1900.