Here, then, Mr. Palgrave re-issues, for the help of many thousands more, his own songs of the memories of the Nation, addressed to a Nation that has not yet forfeited the praise of Milton. Milton said of the Englishman, “If we look at his native towardliness in the roughcast, without breeding, some nation or other may haply be better composed to a natural civility and right judgment than he. But if he get the benefit once of a wise and well-rectified nurture, I suppose that wherever mention is made of countries, manners, or men, the English people, among the first that shall be praised, may deserve to be accounted a right pious, right honest, and right hardy nation.” So much is shown by the various utterances in this national library. So much is shown, in the present volume of it, by a poet’s vision of the England that has been till now, and is what she has been.
To the names of
Henry Hallam and Francis Palgrave
friends and fellow-labourers in English history
for forty years,
who, differing often in judgment,
were at one throughout life in devoted love of
justice, truth, and England,
IN AFFECTIONATE AND REVERENT REMEMBRANCE
this book is inscribed and dedicated
As the scheme which the Author has here endeavoured to execute has not, so far as he knows, the advantage of any near precedent in any literature, he hopes that a few explanatory words may be offered without incurring censure for egotism.
Our history is so eminently rich and varied, and at the same time, by the fact of our insular position, so stamped with unity, that from days very remote it has supplied matter for song. This, among Celts and Angles, at first was lyrical. But poetry, for many centuries after the Conquest, mainly took the annalistic form, and, despite the ability often shown, was hence predoomed to failure. For a nation’s history cannot but present many dull or confused periods, many men and things intractable by poetry, though, perhaps, politically effective and important, which cannot be excluded from any narrative aiming at consecutiveness; and, by the natural laws of art, these passages, when rendered in verse, in their effect become more prosaic than they would be in a prose rendering.