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THE unexpected favor, with which the American Common-Place Book of Prose was received, encouraged its publishers to hope that a similar volume of extracts from American poetry might be attended with the same success. It is true, that there are more good prose writers in our country than there are poets; but it would be strange, indeed, if enough of really excellent poetry could not be found to fill a volume like this. It is not pretended that every piece, in the following selection, is a stately and perfect song, inspired by "the vision and the faculty divine," and containing, throughout, the true power and spirit of harmony; but every lover of poetry will find much to delight a cultivated imagination, and much to set him on thinking; and every religious mind will be pleased that a volume of American poetry, so variously selected, presents so many pages imbued with the feelings of devotion. If all the extracts are not of sufficient excellence to excite vivid admiration, most of them are of the kind that meet us
Like a pleasant thought,
When such are wanted
They are generally simple and unpretending in ornament, quiet and unambitious in their spirit.
The poetry of devotion is the rarest of all poetry. It is sad to think how few, of all the poets in the English language, have possessed or exhibited the Christian character, or had the remembrance of their names associated with the thoughts of Christ and his cross, or the feelings to which the great theme of redemption gives rise in the bosom of the Christian. We may find plenty of the sentimentality of religion, expressed, too, in beautiful language-but as cold as a winter night's transitory frost-work on our windows. A few beloved volumes, indeed, have their place in the heart; but they are few; and of these the praise belongs not exclusively to the genius of poetry, but to a far more precious and elevated spirit-the spirit of the Bible. What boom, that possesses this, does not contain the germ of deep poetry? What poet has experienced its influence, whose song does not breathe an echo of the melodies of paradise? In the true minstrelsy of devotion, there is a higher excellence than that of mere genius. Poetry herself acknowledges a power which is not in her, and observes a deep and sublime emotion excited, which she cannot, unassisted, produce or maintain in the souls of her listeners. When she becomes the handmaid of piety, she finds herself adorned and enriched (in another
sense than Virgil's) with a beauty and a wealth that are not her own:
Miraturque novos fructus, et non sua poma.
All the pieces in this volume are of the purest moral character; and, considering its limits, and the comparative scantiness of American poetry, a good number of them contain, in an uncommon degree, the religious and poetical spirit united. The importance of having books of this nature sweet and chaste in their moral influence, as well as refined in their intellectual and poetical character, is not enough appreciated. None can tell how much good a volume like this may accomplish, if an editor keeps such a purpose in view. A thought upon death and eternity may be rendered acceptable, through the medium of poetry, to many a mind, that would otherwise have fled from its approach. A voice from the grave and the other world may possibly here find hearers who would listen to it no where else. A devout and solemn reflection may steal, with the poetry of this volume, into the most secret recess of some careless heart, and there, through the goodness of Him, who moves in a hidden and mysterious way, "his wonders to perform," and whose spirit can touch the soul with the humblest instruments, prove the first rising of that blessed well of water, which springeth up to everlasting life.
Many of the finest pieces in this volume have been drawn out from corners where they had long lain forgotten and neglected... Some of the devotional melodies are almost as sweet as any in the language. There are several fugitive anonymous pieces, that deserve a place along with those of the truest poets. The extracts from acknowledged sources are as various as they are beautiful. a simpler and more None could draw an colors, and throw more endearingly around it the charm of moral and devout reflection, than Wilcox. In the bold delineation of external scenery, and in painting human passion, philosophy, religion, and the domestic affections, none have displayed a more powerful fancy, or a deeper pathos of feeling, than Dana. Few have written nobler odes than Pierpont. Burns himself could hardly have thrown off a sweeter extempore effusion than some of Brainard's. In the difficult field of sacred drama, Hillhouse has shown a rich and classic imagination. Few will contest the beauty of Willis's Scripture pieces. Others might be named, whose poetry at once individualizes their genius in the mind; but it is unnecessary. May the volume, thus selected, please and do good.
None can describe nature with
affecting beauty than Bryant. American landscape in truer
TABLE OF CONTENTS.