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better have shown his admiration of reigning names in a shape less particular. Circumstances may even conspire to make him fear misconstructions painful on all sides, where acknowledgment of another sort would seem to give double reasons for its extension. Such are the perplexities in preparation for juvenile confidence! The Author therefore must beg that the “Feast of the Poets” may be regarded rather as a fancy of by-gone years than a criticism. The “ Feast of the Violets” is avowedly such. It is not that he thinks less of any of the poets mentioned considered without reference to others, but higher of some than he used ; and that the number seated at Apollo's table ought either to have been less or greater. Admiration is a delight and a duty; but when it even implies comparative criticism, it touches upon a peril which among contemporaries is proverbially us, and not seldom rash and to be repented. A sense of justice, for instance, to a name so great in other respects that it has injured his reputation for poetry (most people finding it difficult to entertain two ideas at once on this subject) compels me to observe, that in fighting hard for the honours of Wordsworth, at a time when the advocacy was not superfluous, I was not sufficiently attentive to those of Coleridge ; and that without entering into the comparative merits of the two, or lowering a jot of my estimation of the former, considered in himself, it appears to me, that since the days of Milton there has been no greater name for pure quintessential poetry, than that of the author of“ Christabel" and the “Ancient Mariner.” This, of course, is stated out of a sense of what is due on my own part, and not from any overweening supposition that the mere statement of an opinion is to settle the question for others.
A considerable, though in no sense of the word the better part of the poem entitled “ Captain Sword and Captain Pen,” was devoted to an exhibition of the horrors of war. I detailed them, because, at the time I wrote it, I thought it my duty to do so. That opinion has ceased, owing to the progress of mechanical science and its fusion of nations one with another; for the closeness of their intercourse will assuredly render war as absurd and impossible by-and-by, as it would be for Manchester to fight with Birmingham, or Holborn Hill with the Strand. The superfluous part of these horrors, therefore, has disappeared from the poem, and only enough of them been retained to give entireness to the subject, and a due contrasting effect to the blessings of the growth of knowledge and good-will. I must add, that I objected to war in no spirit of mere inconsiderate common-place, or effeminate shrinking from pain; as any reader may see who chooses to look at the original edition with its notes. Indeed, if I had shrunk from pain, I should have avoided the subject; for it sometimes gave me more than I choose to express; nor would anything but a sense of duty have induced me to go on with it; though if I might venture to state what I regard as the most approaching to poetry, essentially so called, in any of the
longer effusions in this book, I should say it was in passages of this poem, and of the “ Legend of Florence.”
The “ Legend of Florence” is founded on romance of real life in a periodical Italian publication called the “Florentine Observer” (Osservatore Fiorentino). Among the pleasures which I had in writing this play was the melancholy one of thinking that the beloved friend whom I lost in Italy had chosen the same story for a poem,
of which he has left a fragment. I was thus united with him, in a manner, once more, and upon a subject to which even his noble dramatic genius would have welcomed me for love's sake, and the moral's.
May I be permitted to add, that I shall never forget the honour which Her Majesty did my play in coming twice to see it, and the gracious words in which she was pleased to express her approbation of it to the manager ? Doubtless the beauty of Miss Ellen Tree's acting, and of the occasional music, contributed to procure me this good fortune; not perhaps without a condescending wish on the part of the Royal visitor to assist a writer who was known to be struggling with difficulties, and who had already tasted her beneficence. Most heartily do I give up any portion of the credit of it, attributable to her Majesty's princely good-nature. It was not the last benefit which the Royal disposition had conferred on me ; for I am further indebted to it for the discovery, that “ Laureat” odes, or such as by an extra-official courtesy might have been termed such, may be written out of the truest and even the most disinterested feelings of gratitude ; and I hereby beg pardon of all Laureats, past and to come, for anything I may have formerly said against them, proviped their effusions have as much sincerity as my own.
As to any other effusions of a hostile nature poured forth in the course of one of the most stirring periods of political warfare, when I was in the thick of editorial fight, I shall not belie the honesty and heartiness with which such fights may be carried on during the zeal of the moment; but I have now lived, enjoyed, erred, suffered, and thought enough, to come to the conclusion, that neither modesty of self-knowledge nor largeness of policy is in favour of advancing the circumstances of the community, by attacking individuals who are the creatures of them; and in accordance with this new sense of duty, the volume offered to the public does not contain, it is trusted, one verse which can give pain to any living being. It aspires to be the reader's companion during his quietest and his kindest moments; to add zest to intercourse, and love to the love of nature ; and the Author would fain have left nothing in its pages rebukeable either by the cordial voices of the fireside, or by the pensive breath of the wind as it passes by the ear in field or garden.