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The distinctive features of this Selection from the Poems of Wordsworth are as follows:
i. They are arranged in the groups which were devised by the poet himself, and made use of in the numerous editions of his works issued during his own lifetime.
2. The text is for the most part that of the stereotyped edition of 1836, slightly altered by Wordsworth in subsequent issues up to 1849, the year before his death. But, in some cases, the original text has been preferred; at times the version of intermediate years has been adopted; and, in other instances, MS. readings have been chosen. All the successive readings will be found in the Eversley edition of the poems, issued by the Messrs. Macmillan in 1896, where the textus receptus is that of 1849, but in which all the earlier variants are given in footnotes. To select from all of these the particular text which is —in the editor's judgment.—the best, has not hitherto been attempted in any edition of Wordsworth's poems.
3! No editorial footnotes are given, and no explanatory ones of any kind added, except those which Wordsworth himself wrote. The invaluable Fenwick notes will be found in recent editions.
4. The dates of the poems are also omitted, as they can easily be found in the Eversley, and other editions.
5. As Wordsworth's use of capital letters was not uniform, and based on no general principle, his plan is not followed; and, as his punctuation also was irregular, it is not adhered to throughout. The same applies to his use of dashes and brackets. All his variations on these points will be seen in the Eversley edition, but, in this small book, it has been thought as desirable to select the most appropriate style of punctuation as to choose the fittest reading from all the texts which exist. For both of these the editor is solely responsible.
In the table of contents Wordsworth's capital letters are retained. It is, however, an object-lesson in caprice. - Why, it may well be asked, should "school," "youth," "destroyed," "nest," "flower," "top," "walk," etc., have capitals, while "phantom," "delight," "eminence," "rill," "guide," "echo," etc., have none?
6. In the case of those poems to which Wordsworth gave no title, the first line—printed within inverted commas—is used for the purpose. No literary practice is more reprehensible than for an editor to invent a title for a poem by a classic writer which he did not himself sanction. This has been done over and over again, even by excellent critics and editors of Wordsworth, but it has no justification. If a poet did not give his verses a title, it is to be presumed that he would not wish one given to them by others. The practice is nearly as objectionable as the insertion of summary abstracts for headlines, or placing them within the text down the side of the page, which has disfigured a recent edition. Furthermore, in making use of the first line of a poem as a title, it is necessary to print it in full. One editor has given us "My heart leaps up," whereas the complete line is "My heart leaps up when I behold."
7. Selections from the best parts of The Prelude and The Excursion are incorporated. This has not been previously attempted on the same scale. Short passages from them will be found (many with objectionable invented titles) in several Selections, and separate "Books " of each of them have been issued; but, as there is admittedly much of the green wood of the poet's genius in these two great poems, they are not here reproduced in full. To the extracts which are made no titles have been given.
8. The exclusions are numerous. An Evening Walk, Descriptive Sketches, Peter Bell, The Waggoner, The Idiot Boy, The Ecclesiastical Sonnets, and those On the punishment of Death, the Contributions to Chaucer Modernised, many of the Miscellaneous Sonnets, the tragedy of The Borderers, and others, are left out. For these—as well as for the poems posthumously discovered and edited—the student of Wordsworth must turn to his collected and annotated works.
It is believed that this Selection contains the very best that Wordsworth wrote; but many poems have been excluded only because of the exigencies of space. Some persons, who are not familiar with the poet, may be led to become acquainted with him by means of it. Others, who know his work in its entirety, may be glad to possess a handy edition of his best productions, as a vade mecum.
It only remains to thank the Messrs. Macmillan for their courtesy in connection with the issue of the volume.