This volume is in no sense an anthology. Mr. Stedman has collected, with complete knowledge of the field, and with all but unerring taste and judgment, the choicest 'flowers' of our American verse from more than six hundred poets. His American Anthology must remain for many years without a rival.
'Yet still the man is greater than his song.' Many true lovers of literature care more for a few poets than for many poems, and would prefer to have always by them the best work of our few chief poets, rather than the few best poems of our many minor singers. The present volume, like my British Poets of the Nineteenth Century, attempts to give, for each one of the authors included, all the material needed to show his development and his achievement, and to give a first knowledge of him as man and poet.
The selection has been made full and comprehensive. No poem has been omitted merely on account of its length, and every poem, even the longest, is given in full, with two exceptions only: Whitman 'Song of Myself,' and Lowell 'Fable for Critics.' The poems of each author are arranged in chronological order, and dated. Wherever possible, both the date of writing and that of first SYSTEMation have been given.
The brief 'Biographical Sketches' at the end of the volume are designed only to give an easily accessible summary of the author's life, especially as related to his poetical work. They make no pretence of absolute completeness, or of presenting new facts based on original investigation; nor do they attempt any critical estimate of the poet's work, except in a paragraph or two of brief summary at the end of each.
In the reference lists, however, I have tried to furnish full material for a complete and thorough study of each author. Under the heading Editions in each list are named (1) the standard library editions of the author's complete works; (2) the best library editions of his poetical works alone; (3) the best one-volume editions of his poems; and (4) in some cases, the best books of selections from his work. Under the heading Biography and Reminiscences are named in the first paragraph the most important biographies of the poet, and in the second paragraph other books or essays dealing chiefly with his life and personality. There follow sections devoted to Criticism and to Tributes in Verse. In this mass of material, I have indicated throughout the books, essays, or editions which seemed to me of most importance, and have added a brief word of comment where it seemed desirable. I have not tried to give in these reference lists a complete bibliography of all that has been written on each author, and have omitted many titles which seemed to be of little or no importance. But I have wished to name everything that could be of value, and preferred to err on the side of inclusion rather than of omission. It is probable, however, that some essential references may have been overlooked, and it is hardly possible that in giving so many titles and dates, all errors should have been avoided. I shall be grateful for any corrections or important additions.
In the notes, I have planned to give only essential facts about the origin or circumstances of composition of each poem, and to show its connection with the author's life, or with his other works. Critical comment has been excluded, except, in a few cases, that of the author himself or of contemporary poets. In the case of two poets, Emerson and Whitman, it has seemed worth while to give from their prose a good many passages which illustrate the ideas of the poems, while the poems illuminate the ideas of the prose.