William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Elizabethan Verse. 1907.
By William Stanley Braithwaite (18781962)
IT has been my purpose in compiling this book to do, what I marvel has not long ago been accomplishedthat is, to make a single-volume anthology that would contain the best verse of the Elizabethan Age, whose limits I have set from the publication of Tottels Miscellany, 1557, to the poets born as late as the eighteenth year of the seventeenth century. While these dates are the indicative horizon lines of the opening and close of the period, the selections are really chosen from the contributions of one hundred and seventy-one years; for as we ken that mysterious pathway up which the sun creeps towards dawn, and meditate the solemnity of the woods lying behind the sunset, so here have we caught those early pipings which set the key for the noondays golden chorus, and made a nest to give its faint and dying echoes a home after sunset.
Milton, I have not included, for in my judgment his muse is not Elizabethan, though something more that was strong and independent enough in its genius to create a new dawn out of the Elizabethan nightfall. The one pre-eminent poet he remains, without the ensemble of a great contemporary and succeeding group of singers, from the sixteenth century to the births of Blake and Burns, dates after which, for another century, the soul of English poetry was indigenous to mountain peaks.
Unlike Mr. Quiller-Couchs purpose stated in the Preface to his Golden Pomp, my aim has been both to instruct and please; and this I had hoped to accomplish without being scholastic in any sense of attempt at chronological order of authors, or by adjusting single poems to complement any fact of historical significance. It being true as has been said by a contemporary critic, that the Age was one when verse was used as speech, and becomes song by way of speech, there could be nothing better than its poetry as an expression of its manners, morals, religious aspirations, national and domestic life, vices, virtues, and the temper of the personal attitude. Soldiers and sea-faring adventurers, courtiers and ambassadors, barons and commons, tavern-vagabonds and play-actors, all wrote verse as the familiar and divine gift of some beneficent god on Parnassus who made the English his chosen people of melody. The world was fresh and young; the West passage to India was still a virgin route, and the chemical forces of nature were unleashed to the utility of man. Beauty and wonder came out of the re-awakened consciousness of the Italian Renaissance; the dim mysterious continent below the sunset filled the dreams in English minds with daring and bravery; at home were pageants and masques, and a Sovereign who, gracing them with her presence, exerted a subtle influence and power which her subjects from court to but acknowledged in prayer, praise, and devotion; there was personal and family honour to be cherished and preserved; and women filled mens hearts with a madness for possession as if their lips had tasted the wondrous apples of the Hesperides. And in their doing of these things the desire and the deed were intense. Emotion without any system of psychology went straight to the goal of expression; and out of emotion, thought was born, growing to a marvellous philosophy in Shakespeare, sound ethics in Fulke Greville, and sublime morality in Samuel Daniel. And to these qualities of a universal humanism the period contributed the classicism of Greece and Rome in a sort of Hedonism of intellect in Jonson; a riotous Paganism of senses in Lodge and Fletcher; a Platonism of spiritual interpretation in Spenser and his great schoolmen Drayton and Browne; and in Campion and Herrick a rich, ripe lyric utterance which still remains something quite better in substance, form, and expression than any art except that of Shelley.
In grouping the poems I have followed roughly a general scheme; not too closely nor with the absolute formality of a flower-shop. I have preferred instead, to come out of a prodigal and fragrant field with an armful of flowers with perfumes and colours arranged by kind, indifferently, to give something of Natures variety.
With Spenser, in all but one instance, the original spelling has been retained since inflection and colour are so intricately woven in the woof of the older fashion of words. With very few exceptions I have been particular to give each poem without omission of stanzas or lines; especially has this been so in cases where longer verses have been fashioned by former editors to give the lyric form and quality, and depleted of fine lines and single stanzas which will be met with here as new to many readers. In making the selections my method was, first to read through the works of the poets in their own editions as far as accessible. Of course no one working in the poetry of the period could hope to do the work half well without the valuable contributions of Mr. Bullens Lyrics from the Elizabethan Song Books. The reader as well as the editor owes to Mr. Bullens patient and scholarly researches through the collections of public and private Manuscripts an infinite debt of gratitude. As it is impossible to indicate acknowledgment of each poem which owes its discovery and publication to his loving and tireless labours, I wish here for all, to express my obligation to him. When the numbers were chosen I consulted the Anthologies. To Mr. Quiller-Couchs Golden Pomp I am indebted for Howells poem Of Misery on page 570, and Wisdomes A Religious Use of Taking Tobacco on page 547, both of which I had not met with elsewhere. While in my selections I was independent of the anthologies, I must still accredit to them assistance which I gladly acknowledge in collating the text of different versions, and for many valuable suggestions in punctuation which in a book of this sort is of infinite concern. My obligations are thus rendered to Mr. Quiller-Couchs Golden Pomp and The Oxford Book of English Verse, the late Mr. Palgraves Golden Treasury (First Series), Dr. Hannahs The Courtly Poets, Dr. Arbers British Anthologies (Wyat and Surrey, Spenser, Shakespeare and Jonson), Mr. Bullens reprints of Englands Helicon and Davisons Poetical Rhapsody, Professor Felix E. Schellings A Book of Elizabethan Lyrics, and Arthur Symons Sixteenth Century Anthology, for which I am indebted to Mr. S. C. Williams, Literary Editor of the Boston Advertiser.
I wish also to tender my thanks for personal assistance and suggestions to Mr. V. Stanley Millikin, to Mr. Burton Kline, and to Mr. Arthur Upson, who read the pages and gave me valuable information for the notes; and to Mr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who read the proofs of the entire book and whose wise counsel and encouragement was always generously given.