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ALTHOUGH some pieces of the religious poetry of the age of Queen Elizabeth have been often reprinted, its great variety and extent are known only to those who have made this department of literature their study. The object of this selection is to present to the members of the Parker Society specimens of the authors of that age who wrote sacred poetry and it is hoped that the design is satisfactorily accomplished as far as can be expected in such a work.
In making the selection the Editor has kept in view the object for which the Parker Society was founded; that of exhibiting the principles of the Reformation, by the republication of the works of the Re rmers, and their immediate successors; and it has been his aim to select pieces which are in accordance with those principles. In one or two instances, where the poems related to the Reformation, they have been printed entire; and the whole may be considered as an illustration of some of the results which the English Reformation produced on the literature of the age, and in the minds of the people at large.
Prefixed are very brief biographical notices of the writers in this collection. Of many of them so little is known, that the editor is only able to mention their names and the titles of their books.
It was found difficult to draw an exact line for guidance as to the writers to be included in the selection, from the uncertainty as to the precise period when some of the pieces were published. The desire has been to present poetry of the reign of Queen Elizabeth; but there are a few poems which may have first appeared a few years later. It has not been thought advisable to enter into disquisitions on the merits and characters of these writers. In the age in which they wrote, poetry was too often supposed to consist in the form rather than in the substance, and in the rhythm rather than in the matter. Notwithstanding, the reader will find very much in these pages that may be recognised as true poetry; while throughout the whole he will discern a purity of sentiment, with a devotional feeling which were characteristics of the age to which the volumes refer, and he will often find truly poetic ideas and vigorous thoughts beneath a rugged and even uncouth exterior,
The old spelling has been retained, so that these pieces are literal reprints, except where obvious errors of the press have been corrected. Some obsolete words are explained in a Glossary at the end.
It was needful, on account of the rhyme and rhythm, to retain the original spelling and structure of the words; the Council of the Parker Society have done this in the present instance the more willingly, as it strongly confirms the propriety of the course they deemed it right to pursue with the prose writings of the Reformers, namely, to adopt a regular orthography, conformed to the usage of the present day, while the original words have been strictly preserved.
The selection has been derived from public and private libraries. The thanks of the Council of the Parker Society and of the editor are due to several gentlemen who have aided them in their design; but more especially to William Henry Miller, Esq., whose library in this department of English poetry is the richest in the kingdom. To Mr. Miller's kindness they are indebted for extracts from many rare volumes in his possession, several of which could not be met with elsewhere, and seem to be unknown to bibliographers. Mention must also be made of the kindness of the Rev. Thomas Corser, who obligingly contributed extracts from several rare volumes in his valuable library of Elizabethan poetry.
The best acknowledgements of the Council are also due to Mr. Pickering, Mr. Thorpe, Mr. Lilly, Mr. Stewart, and other booksellers, and especially to Mr. Rodd, for the ready kindness with which they have assisted the editor in his inquiries, and have in several instances allowed him access to rare volumes in their possession.
IVER, December 30, 1845.