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THE HON. MARSHALL PINCKNEY WILDER,
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY,
PRESIDENT OF THE AMERICAN POMOLOGICAL SOCIETY,
TO WHOM, BY TITLE OF HIS LONG, INTELLIGENT, GENEROUS, AND SUCCESSFUL EXERTIONS,
ALL LOVERS OF NATURE AND HER CULTURE ACCORD A FOREMOST PLACE
AS THE FRIEND OF AGRICULTURE AND RURAL ART;
And also to
THE MEMBERS GENERALLY
OF THE ABOVE-NAMED USEFUL AND HONORED NATIONAL SOCIETIES;
AS TO THOSE WHO WILL BEST APPRECIATE,
AND WHO BEST DESERVE THE PLACE OF PATRONS TO,
A PAINSTAKING ENTERPRISE, CONCEIVED IN A SPIRIT KINDRED TO THEIR OWN,
This Volume of Rural Poetry
IS RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED,
BY HIS AND THEIR OBEDIENT HUMBLE SERVANT,
J. W. JENKS.
THOSE nations that have the most taste for rural pursuits must ever rank highest; for they have the greatest number of happy homes, where that individuality and strength of character may be produced which isolation among natural scenes creates and nurtures;- homes, where dwell the virtues which make strong the foundations of a state. Now, the cultivation of rural tastes through poetry and poetic fancies, by making country homes more attractive, tends to render these home influences more powerful, by rendering them more delightful. We may instance that in such a cultivation, investing with correspondent forms, all charming objects of a charming clime, lay much of the beautiful strength of the Greek character, whose impress is so strong on all European, and, of course, on our own civilization.
Americans, indeed, in the absence of pictures and statues, consequent upon the newness of our surroundings, are in a manner compelled to resort to nature for images of beauty which shall cultivate and perfect the taste. Nowhere, however, does man less need the appliances of the pictorial and statuary arts than in our own wide country, where nature lavishes so much of beauty and grandeur.
We are frequently told, that, for the aesthetic cultivation so necessary to a lofty civilization, our country lacks the venerable ruins of timehonored antiquity, round which float hallowed ideas, that enlarge humanity by extending its life into the past of our race, and aggrandize its heart with an inheritance of the accumulated sympathies of many generations. But, in the lack of mouldering ruins, we may supply their place by hallowing with poetry the antiquities of nature, - our solemn forests of undated age, and our rocks, hoary with the mosses of primeval time. These antedate the oldest of man's monuments, and are coëval with that heavenly infancy of humanity when the works of God were a sufficient chronology, and dates were kept, not of selfish deeds of renown, but of progress in the formation of character. The people of that Golden Age raised no pyramids, temples, nor towers; they passed easily to heaven from simple tents pitched upon mountains, beside lovely springs and streams, or in forest glades, under the shade of whose trees they enjoyed the companionship of angels, innocent like themselves, and, like themselves, in love with everything beautiful and good.
Rural poetry should therefore be held in honor, because it tends to heighten, purify, multiply, and
explain, the associations, correspondences, or analogies, which even yet, in these iron ages, give life to the landscape and language to its elements. Each leaf and stone, each form and function, may thus become a companion, or a lesson; and with this advantage over pictures and statues, that, while the heart prone to depravity may be corrupted by them, nature has no sights nor sounds which can minister to vice, for all her influences are elevating and purifying.
It was under the impulse of such thoughts that the compiler conceived the design, a decade of years since, of bringing into one volume, in an attractive form, the chief rural poems of the language; that thus he might fulfil a part of that obligation we are all under to leave society better than we found it. Should this volume contribute to awaken, cultivate, or gratify, the rural tastes of his countrymen and countrywomen, he will not regret the time and drudgery it has cost him to collect, arrange, paragraph, and index, these choice portions of that legacy of English literature, which is the common inheritance of the two mightiest empires of mind.
A glance at the volume will explain its conveniences. How often, in a few moments of leisure, snatched from the busy hours of a busy people, do we, in taking up a book of poetry to solace ourselves with a favorite passage, vainly turn over the leaves, run our eye along page after page, read much that we care not for, and, after an harassing search, give up the passage in despair, as we find the halcyon moments we could abandon to its charms have forever fled; - how often do we close the book in a disagreeable state of mind, the memory of which prevents us from soon opening its pages again! But, in the arrangement (which the editor believes to be entirely original) adopted in this volume, what with the minute division into conspicuous paragraphs, according to topics, with copious and exact captions, the arguments' heading each separate book or canto of a poem, and the very full index at the end, -any favorite passage, and indeed any sought-for sentiment, name, precept, description, or allusion, may be turned to without the loss of a moment. We thus find with ease what we are in the mood of reading, minister at once to the good tastes we are cultivating, and put aside the book with a sense of improvement and pleasure which spreads its zest over many an otherwise weary and profitless hour. J. W. J.
BOSTON, June, 1856.