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THE COLLECTED EDITION OF TEN WOLUMES,
PUBLISHED IN 1837, 1838.
THE FIRST VOLUME.
AT the age of sixty-three I have undertaken to collect and edite my Poetical Works, with the last corrections that I can expect to bestow upon them. They have obtained a reputation equal to my wishes; and I have this ground for hoping it may not be deemed hereafter more than commensurate with their deserts, that it has been gained without ever accommodating myself to the taste or fashion of the times. Thus to collect and revise them is a duty which I owe to that part of the Public by whom they have been auspiciously received, and to those who will take a lively concern in my good name when I shall have departed. The arrangement was the first thing to be considered. In this the order wherein the respective poems were written has been observed,
so far as was compatible with a convenient
| classification. Such order is useful to those who read critically, and desire to trace the progress of an author's mind in his writings; and by affixing dates to the minor pieces, under whatever head they are disposed, the | object is sufficiently attained.
| Next came the question of correction. There
was no difficulty with those poems which were
composed after the author had acquired his art (so far as he has acquired it), and after his opinions were matured. It was only necessary to bear in mind the risk there must ever be of injuring a poem by verbal alterations made
long after it was written; inasmuch as it must be impossible to recall the precise train of thought in which any passage was conceived, and the considerations upon which not the single verse alone but the whole sentence, or paragraph, had been constructed: but with | regard to more important changes, there could be no danger of introducing any discrepance in style. With juvenile pieces the case is different. From these the faults of diction have been weeded wherever it could be done without more trouble than the composition originally cost, and than the piece itself was worth. But inherent faults of conception and structure are incurable; and it would have been mere waste of time to recompose what it was impossible otherwise to amend. | If these poems had been now for the first time to be made public, there are some among them which, instead of being committed to the press, would have been consigned to the flames; not for any disgrace which could be reflected upon me by the crude compositions of my youth, nor for any harm which they could possibly do the reader, but merely that they might not cumber the collection. But “nescit vor missa reverti.” Pirated editions would hold out as a recommendation, that they contained what I had chosen to suppress, and thus it becomes prudent, and therefore proper, that such pieces should be retained. It has ever been a rule with me when I have | imitated a passage, or borrowed an expression, to acknowledge the specific obligation. Upon the present occasion it behoves me to state the more general and therefore more important obligations which I am conscious of wing either to my predecessors, or my contemporaries.
My first attempts in verse were much too early to be imitative, but I was fortunate enough to find my way, when very young, into the right path. I read the “Jerusalem Delivered" and the “Orlando Furioso" again and again, in Hoole's translations: it was for the sake of their stories that I perused and re-perused these poems with ever new delight; and by bringing them thus within my reach in boyhood, the translator rendered me a service which, when I look back upon my intellectual life, I cannot estimate too highly. I owe him much also for his notes, not only for the information concerning other Italian romances which they imparted, but also for introducing me to Spenser; – how early, an incident which I well remember may show. Going with a relation into Bull's circulating library at Bath (an excellent one for those days), and asking whether they had the “Faery Queen,” the person who managed the shop said “yes, they had it, but it was in obsolete language, and the young gentleman would not understand it.” But I, who had learned all I then knew of the history of England from Shakespear, and who had moreover read Beaumont and Fletcher, found no difficulty in Spenser's English, and felt in the beauty of his versification a charm in poetry of which I had never been fully sensible before. From that time I took Spenser for my master. I drank also betimes of Chaucer's well. The taste which had been acquired in that school was confirmed by Percy’s “Reliques” and Warton's “History of English Poetry;" and a little later by Homer and the Bible It was not likely to be corrupted afterwards.
My school-boy verses savoured of Gray, Mason, and my predecessor Warton; and in the best of my juvenile pieces it may be seen how much the writer's mind had been imbued by Akenside. I am conscious also of having derived much benefit at one time from Cowper, and more from Bowles; for which, and for the delight which his poems gave me at an age when we are most susceptible of such delight, my good friend at Bremhill, to whom I was then and long afterwards personally unknown, will allow me to make this grateful and cordial acknowledgment.
My obligation to Dr. Sayers is of a different kind. Every one who has an ear for metre and a heart for poetry, must have felt how perfectly the metre of Collins's “Ode to Evening" is in accordance with the imagery and the feeling. None of the experiments which were made of other unrhymed stanzas proved successful. They were either in strongly marked and well-known measures which unavoidably led the reader to expect rhyme, and consequently baulked him when he looked for it; or they were in stanzas as cumbrous as they were ill constructed. Dr. Sayers went upon a different principle, and succeeded admirably. I read his “Dramatic Sketches of Northern Mythology" when they were first published, and convinced myself when I had acquired some skill in versification, that the kind of verse in which his choruses were composed was not less applicable to narration than to lyrical poetry. Soon after I had begun the Arabian romance, for which this measure seemed the most appropriate vehicle, “Gebir” fell into my hands, and my verse was greatly improved by it, both in vividness and strength. Several years elapsed before I knew that Walter Landor was the author, and more before I had the good fortune to meet the person to whom I felt myself thus beholden. The days which I have passed with him in the Wale of Ewias, at Como, and lastly in the neighbourhood of Bristol, are some of those which have left with me “a joy for memory.”
I have thus acknowledged all the specific obligations to my elders or contemporaries in the art, of which I am distinctly conscious. The advantages arising from intimate intercourse with those who were engaged in similar pursuits cannot be in like manner specified, because in their nature they are imperceptible; but of such advantages no man has ever possessed more or greater, than at different times it has been my lot to enjoy. Personal attachment first, and family circumstances afterwards, connected me long and closely with Mr. Coleridge; and three-and-thirty years have ratified a friendship with Mr. Wordsworth, which we believe will not terminate with this life, and which it is a pleasure for us to know will be continued and cherished as an heir-loom by those who are dearest to us both.
When I add what has been the greatest of