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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. 62-3): the first of which, beginning
Sing on, sweet thrush, upon the leafless bough;
is surely one of the sweetest and most pathetic of all our sonnets, and certainly deserving of a place in all future sonnet-anthologies. Among other poets not included in previous selections, who are represented in the following pages, may be mentioned Robert Herrick, whose sonnets, though irregular in form, are nevertheless works of much beauty, and are written after the manner of those of his contemporary William Habington, the author of Castara, and one of the most productive sonneteers of that age. The reader will also find sonnets by Dean Milman ; George Eliot; Bernard Barton, the Quaker poet; Henry Francis Cary, the well-known translator of Dante; William Motherwell ; Thomas Noel, the author of The Pauper's Drive and other poems; John Anster ; George Morine, &c. &c. It has been deemed advisable to relegate to the Notes at the end of the volume, specimens of the work of two or three authors whose poems are of interest only in connection with the history of the Sonnet,
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 manipulation 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 individuality. Perhaps it is mainly in this quality of oneness, and in the necessity of being concise in so limited a space,