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Preface to the Sixteenth Edition.
By the publication of “THE FEMALE POETS OF AMERICA,” in 1849, this survey of American Poetry was divided into two parts. From “THE POETS AND POETRY OF AMERICA” were omitted all reviewals of our female poets, and their places were supplied with notices of other authors. The entire volume was also revised, re-arranged, and in other respects improved.
The book was in the first place too hastily prepared. There was difficulty in procuring materials, and in deciding, where so many had some sort of claim to the title, whom to regard as Poets. There had been published in this country about five hundred volumes of rhythmical compositions of various kinds and degrees of merit, nearly all of which I read, with more or less attention. From the mass I chose about one fifth, as containing writings not unworthy of notice in such an examination of this part of our literature as I proposed to make. I have been censured, perhaps justly, for the wide range of my selections. But I did not consider all the contents of the volume Poetry. I aimed merely to show what had been accomplished toward a Poetical Literature by our writers in verse before the close of the first half century of our national existence. With much of the first order of excellence more was accepted that was comparatively poor. But I believe nothing was admitted inferior to passages in the most celebrated foreign works of like character. I have also been condemned for omissions. But on this score I have no regrets. I can think of no name not included in the first edition which I would now admit without better credentials than were before me when that edition was printed.
The value of books of this description has been recognised from an early period. Besides the few leading authors in every literature whose works are indispensable in libraries to be regarded as in any degree complete, there are a far greater number of too little merit to render the possession of all their productions desirable. The compilations of English poetry by Mr. SOUTHEY, Mr. HAZLITT, Mr. CAMPBELL, and Mr. S. C. Hall, embrace as many as most readers wish to read of the effusions of more than half the
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PREFACE TO THE SIXTEENTH EDITION
writers quoted in them; and of the qualities of all such, indications are given in criticisms or specimens as will intelligibly guide the lover of poetry to more comprehensive studies. In our own country, where there are comparatively few poets of a high rank, the majority would have little chance of a just appreciation but for such reviewals.
The earliest project for a general collection of Specimens of American Poetry was that of JAMES RIVINGTON, the celebrated royalist printer of New York, who in January, 1773, sent a printed circular on the subject to several persons in the colonies who had reputations as poets, and soon after published in his “Royal Gazette” the following advertisement:
“The public is hereby notified that the printer of this paper has it in contemplation to publish with all convenient speed a COLLECTION OF Poems by the FAVORITES of the Muses in America, on the same plan with Dopsley's celebrated English Compilation. Such ladies and gentlemen, therefore, as will please to honour the attempt with their productions, (which will be treated with the utmost impartiality by a gentleman who hath undertaken to conduct the publication,) will confer a favor on the public in general, and particularly on their much obliged and very humble servant,
James Rivington. The execution of RIVINGTON's design was prevented by the approaching revolution, and no such book appeared until 1791, when MATTHEW CAREY brought out his “Beauties of Poetry, British and American,” in which selections are given from nineteen native writers. In 1793 the first of a proposed series of volumes of “ American Poems, Selected and Original," was printed in Litchfield, Connecticut, under the editorial supervision of RICHARD ALSOP. It is curious and interesting, and students in our literary history will regret that its sale did not warrant a completion of the undertaking. In 1794 " The Columbian Muse, a Selection of American Poetry by various Authors of established Reputation," appeared from the press of J. CAREY, in New York. The next publication of this kind was the comprehensive and judicious “Specimens of American Poetry, with Critical and Biographical Notices," in three volumes, by Mr. SAMUEL KETTELL, in 1829; followed in 1831 by Dr. CHEEVER'S “ American Common-Place Book of Poetry, with occasional Notes;” in 1839 by “The Poets of America, illustrated by one of her Painters," edited by Mr. KEESE, and in the same year by “Selections from the American Poets,” by Mr. BRYANT.
Since the reconstruction of the present work, in the eleventh edition, the sale has been still greater than previously, and I have now added many new authors, and notices of the new productions of authors already mentioned, with additional extracts.
No. 22, West TWENTYTHIRD STREET, NEW YORK, 1855.
PREFACE TO THE
TO THE FIRST EDITION.
This book is designed to exhibit the progress and condition of Poetry in the United States. It contains selections from a large number of authors, all of whom have lived in the brief period which has elapsed since the establishment of the national government. Considering the youth of the country, and the many circumstances which have had a tendency to retard the advancement of letters here, it speaks well for the past and present, and cheeringly for the future.
There is nothing in our country to prevent the successful cultivation of literature and the arts, provided the government places our own authors upon an equality with their foreign rivals, by making it possible to publish their works at the same prices. A National Literature is not necessarily confined to local subjects; but if it were, we have no lack of themes for romance, poetry, or any other sort of writing, even though the new relations which man sustains to his fellows in these commonwealths did not exist. The perilous adventures of the Northmen; the noble heroism of Columbus ; the rise and fall of the Peruvian and Mexican empires; the colonization of New-England by the Puritans; the witchcraft delusion; the persecution of the Quakers and Baptists; the rise and fall of the French dominion in the Canadas; the overthrow of the great confederacy of the Five Nations; the settlement of New-York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, by people of the most varied and picturesque characters; the beautiful and poetical mythology of the aborigines ; and that revolution, resulting in our independence and equal liberty, which forms a barrier between the traditionary past and the familiar present: all abound with themes for imaginative literature. Turning from these subjects to those of a descriptive character, we have a variety not less extensive and interesting. The chains of mountains which bind the continent; the inland seas between Itasca and the ocean ; caverns, in which whole nations might be hidden ; the rivers, cataracts, and sea-like prairies; and all the varieties of land, lake, river, sea and sky, between the gulfs of Mexico and Hudson, are full of them.
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
The elements of power in all sublime sights and heavenly harmonies should live in the poet's song. The sense of beauty, next to the miraculous divine suasion, is the means through which the human character is purified and elevated. The creation of beauty, the manifestation of the real by the ideal, in “ words that move in metrical array,” is the office of the poet.
This volume embraces specimens from a great number of authors; and though it may not contain all the names which deserve admission, the judicious critic will be more likely to censure me for the wide range of my selections than for any omissions. In regard to the number of poems I have given from particular writers, it is proper to state that considerations unconnected with any estimates of their comparative merit have in some cases guided me. The collected works of several poets have been frequently printed and are generally familiar, while the works of others, little less deserving of consideration, are comparatively unknown.
There is in all the republic scarcely a native inhabitant of Saxon origin who cannot read and write. Every house has its book closet and every town its public library. The universal prevalence of intelligence, and that self-respect and confidence arising from political and social equality, have caused a great increase of writers. Owing, however, to the absence of a just system of copyright, the rewards of literary exertion are so precarious that but a small number give their exclusive attention to literature. A high degree of excellence, especially in poetry, is attained only by constant and quiet study and cultivation. Our poets have generally written with too little preparation, and too hastily, to win enduring reputations.
In selecting the specimens in the work, I have regarded humorous and other rhythmical compositions, not without merit in their way, as poetry, though they possess few of its true elements. It is so common to mistake the form for the divine essence, that I should have been compelled to omit the names of many who are popularly known as poets, had I been governed by a more strict definition.
PATLADELPHIA, March, 1842.
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