William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Restoration Verse. 1910.
By William Stanley Braithwaite (18781962)
THIS anthology covers the period between the books of Elizabethan and Georgian verse in a design intended to include selections to represent the periods of British poetry from 1557 to 1910. The name Restoration may not be accurately applied in designating this volume; but since the year, and those succeeding to 1685, when the restored monarchy came into power and ruled, gave to the group of writers who were at the height of their powers under the influence of Charles court, a definite and unusual character, it may not be inappropriately used in naming a volume of selections from the poets of the seventeenth century.
It is hard for criticism to determine when the Elizabethan influence definitely ceased. Examples of its dramatic quality are to be found in a poet who wrote so long afterwards as Beddoes: and of its best lyrical note in Mr. Robert Bridges, a contemporary poet; but as a school it declined on the borderlands of what historical criticism, taking safe refuge from the perils of spiritual definitions, term Jacobean and Caroline periods. Necessarily the poets of the two schools overlap in the anthology preceding, and this one. Milton, who was not included in the Book of Elizabethan Verse, is placed in this, since he was not so much as criticism maintains, the last great Elizabethan, but the dawn out of the Elizabethan nightfall, who was beginning and the ending of the Miltonic dignity. Waller, who has not a place in this book, but is included in the Elizabethan volume, is there the product of a declining epoch, despite the fact that he originated a new style and versification. His poetry was a decaying substance adorned in newer technical roles which had not the power to keep it aliveas time has proved.
From the decline of the Italian influence, to Gray and Collins, there was a period in English poetry peculiar in its characteristics, and interwoven as at no other time in Englands literary history, with the complexion of national affairs. It held three pre-eminent figuresMilton, Dryden, and Pope. It comprises the Civil Wars, the Commonwealth, the Restoration, the Revolution of 1688, and witnessed the ancient throne of Britain occupied by a foreign prince. Poets were partisans with the equal fervour of politicians; and though the climax of the century was the expression of the French influence ushered into English literature with the Restoration, the note of individualism was lost in the ascendency of patronage and parties. Without Milton, who is beyond comparison, as Shakespeare was before him, and Wordsworth, Keats, and Tennyson after him, the development of the period can be traced from Cowley through Dryden to Pope, who carried to perfection qualities which the author of MacFlecknoe first introduced into English verse. From Cowley to Pope is the direct development of the period which this anthology covers. Contemporaneously, were many poets who possessed qualities that were higher and rarer, but they were often poets by chance rather than by dedicated intention. The period is not so barren of poetry as is often supposed. It was not a great epoch to be sure, but one which would have given to many European countries the distinction of being a poetic people. Rochester, Sedley, Stanley, Sherburne, and Cotton are lyrists of no mean power, and if in some instances the mans life in his own day was better known for his dissolute habits than for his verse, fortunately by judicious selection, it is only the latter that can affect us today. But the period was not wholly given to such coarse compositions as the character of the times suggests to general society. Marvell and Vaughan, it is true wrote under the influence of Puritan rule, but Traherne and Cary showed that the spiritual conscience was not dead, though forced into obscurity.
The period is distinctive also, because it was the first to witness female authorship to a degree where it was recognised by the general public. The Duchess of Newcastle, Katherine Philips, (the Matchless Orinda), Anne, Countess of Winchilsea, and Aphra Behn have this distinction in English literature. Aphra Behn being the first English woman to make authorship a profession.
I have included here a selection of the popular ballads. Many of these ballads were first circulated as broadsides during the seventeenth century: and since the first ballad collection was made early in the eighteenth century, it seemed to me that, in a scheme such as I have followed in these series of anthologies (see Preface to The Book of Georgian Verse), they could not be inserted in any better place.