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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Georgian Verse. 1909.


William Stanley Braithwaite (1878–1962)

<PARA=”1″>THIS anthology is the second to appear in a series of four volumes designed to cover the entire range of British poetry from the publication of Tottel’s Miscellany, 1557, to the end of the Victorian epoch. The Book of Elizabethan Verse, issued in 1906, was the first published in this series, of which the present volume in chronological order is the third;—the second to be the Book of Restoration Verse; the fourth, and conclusion of the series, the Book of Victorian Verse.<PARA=”2″>This grouping of British poetry seems, to the present editor, to furnish a very definite classification. With the first and fourth books in the design stated, there seems little or no difference from the accepted classification of literary history; the division between the second and third books, he realizes, suggests the acceptance, on his part, of a theory in literary interpretation about which many are certain to discover matter for discussion. Some critics are likely to find fault with the scope of a period to which he has applied the designation ‘Georgian,’ beginning with the work of Ramsay and Gray and reaching its climax and close in Wordsworth, Keats.<PARA=”3″>This anthology, according to the editor’s intention, includes those poets born under the four Georges, who seem to represent the rise and development of a distinct poetical epoch. It does not include such poets as Tennyson, Browning, Rossetti, and Arnold (born under George IV.), who formed by the growth of a new temper in their work from 1840 onwards, the Victorian School. It is commonly a literary tenet that the publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1798, was the beginning of a new note which fulfilled its wonderful promise in the work of Wordsworth’s contemporaries. The splendid period of song which followed still remains unmatched in any equal, indeed in any much longer count of the calendar in any country or century, except at the ending of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries. Early in the eighteenth century, the germ of modern romanticism in poetry began in the Scottish capital; a little later Gray and Collins, in England, were writing odes, and Thomson had constructed a theology in nature, the freshness and the artistic finish of which failed for a time to make any appeal against the fetich of Pope. But this, indeed, was the faint spark of new life in British poetry that slowly but surely burned its way through the formalism, artifice, and ‘elegance’ of Pope’s influence, flaming into pure and unobstructed radiance in Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Byron, and Scott. In parallel channels, the English and Scotch poets developed their particular virtues and qualities until merged into one broad common stream of humanity and mysticism in Burns and Blake.<PARA=”4″>The selections have been divided into four books, each quite similar in the general grouping of poems associated in feeling. While there has been an effort to prevent any strict formality, which seems to the editor more or less distasteful in any spontaneous expression of poetic utterance, he has attempted to give some real coherency in their arrangement. Thus, the poems on Spring and morning, youth, delight, and hope, are the opening invitations to each book, graduating through the months and hours to winter and midnight, supplemented by each shade and aspiration of human emotion, and contrasted at intervals with objective verses which afford pleasure because of their action or locality.<PARA=”5″>Included are many poems hitherto omitted from anthologies because of their length. Smart’s Song to David, and Blair’s Grave, are conspicuous examples, being moreover poems not easily accessible in ordinary editions; others such as Chatterton’s Bristowe Tragedie, Keats’ Eve of St. Agnes and Isabella, Wordsworth’s Michael, Crabbe’s Sir Eustace Gray, Coleridge’s Christabel, Burns’ Tam o’ Shanter, and Scott’s Eve of Saint John, comprise some of the very finest narrative poems in our literature. To add Shelley’s Adonais and Epipsychidion, Goldsmith’s Deserted Village, Byron’s Prisoner of Chillon, Landor’s Hamadryad, and Hogg’s Kilmeny, gives further evidence of the wealth of selections which conform to Poe’s requirement of being readable within the limits of half an hour. The poems, with two exceptions, are given in their entirety, and, as near as possible, with the titles given them by their authors; where they have been without titles the first line is used to designate the verse.<PARA=”6″>I wish to tender my thanks to Mr. Burton Kline, Mr. Laurens Maynard, and Mr. Edwin F. Edgett who have been helpful to me with suggestions in various ways.
W. S. B.
Twelfth Night, 1908.