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HE following selection has been prepared for
publication as a companion volume to “Eng
lish Sonnets by Living Writers :"-and it is hoped that in these two anthologies, the one including the authors of the Past and the other those of the Present, the whole of our best English sonnet-literature will be found to be fairly represented. Several poets and sonneteers that have been omitted in a few instances somewhat strangely omitted, --from previous selections, are here, for the first time, allowed to occupy that space to which they are so justly entitled, and from which they have apparently been driven by supplanters of a lower rank. The Editor would especially call attention to the
two plaintive, yet noble, sonnets by Robert Burns (pp.
Sing on, sweet thrush, upon the leafless bough;
is surely one of the sweetest and most pathetic of all our
and are not such as would afford pleasure to ordinary modern readers. Amongst these will be found examples of the compositions of Sir Thomas Wyatt and his friend the Earl of Surrey, the earliest writers in English of this form of verse.
Also the less famous of Blanco White's
two sonnets will be found at page 232;-his Night and Death is, of course, given in the body of the book,
As those who are well acquainted with the late Rev. Alexander Dyce's pleasant Selection of sonnets will remember that he included a large number by John Bamphylde and by Miss Anna Seward, the Editor would take this opportunity of explaining that he has omitted these sonneteers advisedly, and after due consideration of their respective merits and defects. And this observation applies also to a few other minor poets such as Philip Ayres, Thomas Edwards, Walsh, Chapman, Kirke White, Beddoes, &c. &c.
A recent writer in the “ Westminster Review " has pointed out that “the Sonnet is beginning to take the same place amongst us, making allowance for altered circumstances, as the Epigram did with the Greeks :". and of both these kinds of composition it may be re
marked, in the words of an old author, that although a little thing gives perfection, perfection is not a little thing. In both “style is put under high pressure," and perhaps no one has stated this better, or more forcibly, than the present Lord Lytton, who writes, -"It (the Sonnet) is ́a form of verse which most severely tests the art of the poet, It admits of no mediocrity. It must be written with the fist instead of the finger ; and yet with a delicacy of mani. pulation of which none but the finest and most skilful finger is capable.” And to this may be added that the necessity of a lyric unity both of thought and design, which is the essential quality of the Sonnet, does not in any degree lessen the difficulty of its composition. For whether it be made to consist of three parts, like the three propositions of a syllogism,-or be divided into two sections after the manner of the Italian writers, or be composed in the image (to use Wordsworth's phrase) of an orbicular body-a sphere, or a dew-drop, --in all cases one idea, one thought, one mood, must pervade and govern the whole, and must endow it with life and indi. viduality. Perhaps it is mainly in this quality of oneness, and in the necessity of being concise in so limited a space,