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In preparing this volume for the press, the object in view has been not only to exalt and purify the taste of the reader, but at the same time to amuse and instruct. In all real education, the cultivation of the imagination forms a most important, if not an essential part; and this cultivation is more readily carried on by a gradual introduction to poetry than by any other means. The imagination of a child is of all the faculties of his mind the one which is developed at the earliest period, the most easily affected, and consequently swayed, by good or evil influences. During youth, therefore, the age of faith, when the wild and wondrous, the terrible, as well all that is brightly fair, of the seen or unseen world, is simply and at once believed, it is most important that the food of the mind should be both pure and invigorating.
And if the influence of poetry upon the mind of youth be thus strong, it will be scarcely less so upon that mind when it has attained the vigour of manhood, and become more familiar with the realities of the
But too often, indeed, the cold calculating spirit of Mammon will sear and harden what was once soft, and genial, and “apt of belief,” in the mind, and give to every thing but its bare value among the wiser children of this generation ; and thus faith will waver, and love of the unseen or unreal grow dead, or perhaps cease altogether. Still, however, where the imagination has in early life been rightly and not unduly affected by poetry, its influence more or less will be felt, even through years of mere worldly, selfish existence, and contend nobly for what is pure and worthy of belief.
The following selections have been made almost entirely from the writings of our chief poets,—an acquaintance with whom should be at once the pride and delight of every one who claims the name of Englishman. In reading and studying their works, he will gradually learn to hold communion with the mighty minds of old,—and joy to say, as one of the last departed among them said of his predecessors :
“My never-failing friends are they,
With whom I converse day by day.
I live in long-past years ;
Partake their hopes and fears."
Shakspere, and Goldsmith, and Wordsworth, and Southey, are names which we cannot but honour and love; and, with the host of others whose voices, though dead, do yet speak to us, are worthy of far more than