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A Choice among the best Poems






value must be made on the responsibility of
one but on the authority of many. There is no
caprice; the mind of the maker has been formed
for decision by the wisdom of many instructors.
It is the very study of criticism, and the grate-
ful and profitable study, that gives the justifica-
tion to work done upon the strongest personal
impulse, and done, finally, in the mental solitude
that cannot be escaped at the last. In another
order, moral education would be best crowned
if it proved to have quick and profound control
over the first impulses; its finished work would
be to set the soul in a state of law, delivered
from the delays of self-distrust; not action only,
but the desires would be in an old security, and
a wish would come to light already justified.
This would be the second-if it were not the
only-liberty. Even so an intellectual education
might assuredly confer freedom upon first and
solitary thoughts, and confidence and composure
upon the sallies of impetuous courage.
word, it should make a studious anthologist
quite sure about genius. And all who have
bestowed, or helped in bestowing, the liberating
education have given their student the authority
to be free. Personal and singular the choice in
such a book must be, not without right.

Claiming and disclaiming so much, the gatherers may follow one another to harvest, and glean in the same fields in different seasons, for the repetition of the work can never be altogether a repetition. The general consent of criticism does not stand still; and moreover, a mere accident

In a

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has until now left a poet of genius of the past here and there to neglect or obscurity. This is not very likely to befall again; the time has come when there is little or nothing left to discover or rediscover in the sixteenth century or the seventeenth; we know that there does not lurk another Crashaw contemned, or another Henry Vaughan disregarded, or another George Herbert misplaced. There is now something like finality of knowledge at least; and therefore not a little error in the past is ready to be repaired. This is the result of time. Of the slow actions and reactions of critical taste there might be something to say, but nothing important. No loyal anthologist perhaps will consent to acknowledge these tides; he will hardly do his work well unless he believe it to be stable and perfect; nor, by the way, will he judge worthily in the name of others unless he be resolved to judge intrepidly for himself.

Inasmuch as even the best of all poems are the best upon innumerable degrees, the size of most anthologies has gone far to decide what degrees are to be gathered in and what left without. The best might make a very small volume, and be indeed the best, or a very large volume, and be still indeed the best. But my labour has been to do somewhat differently-to gather nothing that did not overpass a certain boundary-line of genius. Gray's Elegy, for instance, would rightly be placed at the head of everything below that mark. It is, in fact, so near to the work of genius as to be most directly, closely, and immediately rebuked by genius; it meets genius at close quarters and


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