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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 4.djvu/17

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PREFACE TO THE FOURTH VOLUME.

familiarize his own countrymen with the scenery, the art and letters of the Continent, and, conversely, to make the existence of English literature, or, at least, the writings of one Englishman, known to Frenchmen and Italians; to the Teuton and the Slav. If he "taught us little" as prophet or moralist; as a guide to knowledge; as an educator of the general reader—"your British blackguard," as he was pleased to call him—his teaching and influence were "in widest commonalty spread."

Questions with regard to his personality, his morals, his theological opinions, his qualifications as an artist, his grammar, his technique, and so forth, have, perhaps inevitably, absorbed the attention of friend and foe, and the one point on which all might agree has been overlooked, namely, the fact that he taught us a great deal which it is desirable and agreeable to know—which has passed into common knowledge through the medium of his poetry. It is true that he wrote his plays and poems at lightning speed, and that if he was at pains to correct some obvious blunders, he expended but little labour on picking his phrases or polishing his lines; but it is also true that he read widely and studied diligently, in order to prepare himself for an outpouring of verse, and that so far from being a superficial observer or inaccurate recorder, his authority is worth quoting on questions of fact and points of detail.

The appreciation of poetry is a matter of taste, and still more of temperament. Readers cannot be coerced