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In the present selection from my poetry, there is an attempt to escape from the embarrassment of appearing to pronounce upon what myself may consider the best of it. I adopt another principle; and by simply stringing together certain pieces on the thread of an imaginary personality, I present them in succession, rather as the natural development of a particular experience than because I account them the most noteworthy portion of my work. Such an attempt was made in the volume of selections from the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning: to which-in outward uniformity, my own would venture to become a companion.
A few years ago, had such an opportunity presented itself, I might have been tempted to say a word in reply to the objections my poetry was used to encounter. Time has kindly co-operated with my disinclination to write the poetry and the criticism besides. The readers I am at last privileged to expect, meet me fully half-way; and if, from the fitting stand-point, they must still "censure me in their wisdom," they have previously "awakened their senses that they may the better judge." Nor do I apprehend any more charges of being wilfully obscure, unconscientiously careless, or perversely harsh. Having hitherto done my utmost in the art to which my life is a devotion, I cannot engage to increase the effort; but I conceive that there may be helpful light, as well as re-assuring warmth, in the attention and sympathy I gratefully acknowledge.
London, May 14, 1872.
BROWNING'S own selections from his works supply the general
reader, or the student who intends further complete study, with the most coherent representative short survey or initial presentation of his whole complex and voluminous genius.
The poet has made his selections cover the entire range of his work from 1833 to 1879; the present editors, not presuming to go back over any part of the field from which he has garnered, have added from his later publications a choice handful of short poems, mainly lyrical, beginning with the second series of 'Dramatic Idyls,' 1880, and closing with the final volume, ‘Asolando,' 1889, which was published in London on the day of Browning's death in Venice.
Care has been taken to give with accuracy Browning's own latest revised text of 1888, 1889; also, to make the Introduction and Notes rich in small space. In making the æsthetic part of the Notes, the aim has been neither to paraphrase, nor to give comment about the poems, but to epitomize the gist of each one, or, at most, where the poem demanded such treatment, to summarize its leading traits and show its outcome. Such a procedure seemed especially appropriate to this volume which Browning intended should offer the public a representative view of his poetic domain, and the editors hope this part of their work will especially commend itself. They believe the Notes will also be found to shed light on many allusions not before explained.
Finally, they desire to acknowledge with cordial gratitude their indebtedness to the work of their predecessors, especially to Mrs. Orr, Professor Hiram Corson, Mr. George Willis Cooke, Dr. Edward Berdoe, Dr. W. J. Rolfe, and Miss Hersey for help in allusions; and to Mrs. Orr, Mr. William Sharpe, Mr. Edmund Gosse, and Mr. W. G. Kingsland, from whom the materials for the biographical sketch were drawn; also to the Boston Browning Society, whose collection of first editions was consulted in compiling the bibliography.
BOSTON, May 20, 1896.