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Flower of the Mind   By: (1847-1922)

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THE FLOWER OF THE MIND

INTRODUCTION

Partial collections of English poems, decided by a common subject or bounded by narrow dates and periods of literary history, are made at very short intervals, and the makers are safe from the reproach of proposing their own personal taste as a guide for the reading of others. But a general Anthology gathered from the whole of English literature the whole from Chaucer to Wordsworth by a gatherer intent upon nothing except the quality of poetry, is a more rare enterprise. It is hardly to be made without tempting the suspicion nay, hardly without seeming to hazard the confession of some measure of self confidence. Nor can even the desire to enter upon that labour be a frequent one the desire of the heart of one for whom poetry is veritably "the complementary life" to set up a pale for inclusion and exclusion, to add honours, to multiply homage, to cherish, to restore, to protest, to proclaim, to depose; and to gain the consent of a multitude of readers to all those acts. Many years, then some part of a century may easily pass between the publication of one general anthology and the making of another.

The enterprise would be a sorry one if it were really arbitrary, and if an anthologist should give effect to passionate preferences without authority. An anthology that shall have any 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 grateful and profitable study, that gives the justification 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. In a 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 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... Continue reading book >>




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