IN presenting a text of the sonnets in this volume, the editor is glad to make accessible a major poetic work of an American poet who has been too long without his fullest recognition. The interesting connection of these sonnets with the life of George Henry Boker has been treated in the following Introduction, but it should he pointed out here that these are not only intrinsically fine poems but that besides they are records of the love affairs of the poet. The editor discovered them in a cupboard in the house of the daughter-in-law of the poet in South Thirteenth Street, Philadelphia, during the course of his collection of material for his life of Boker. [George Henry Boker: Poet and Patriot, Philadelphia, 1927.]
Considerable care has been expended in the effort to determine the probable final judgment of the poet. This task was rendered difficult by the condition of the manuscript, a first draft in pencil which had been revised during many successive years, so that the erasures and corrections were many and puzzling. Besides this, it must also be remembered that while the poet had evidently contemplated the publication of the work, he had not prepared a final draft, and there is no doubt that a poet of his skill would have added the finishing touch of perfection to the few of these poems which still lack it.
The Sonnets have never hefore been published, with the exception of Sonnets CXCI and CXCIII, which appeared among a selection of Boker's sonnets included in The Book of the Sonnet, an anthology compiled by Leigh Hunt and S. Adams Lee (Boston, 1867). The 313 sonnets here published must go a long way toward the establishment of Boker's place as one of the most successful masters of the form. Their production was accomplished over a long period, beginning probably in 1851, and extending until 1887. They record the history of three separate love affairs of the poet during separate periods. The major part, including 282 sonnets, and extending until 1871, is perhaps the most remarkable exposition of its sort in English poetry in both the scope of the experience recorded and the duration of the relationship. No mood has been avoided; from platonic ideality to the fervor of physical consummation, from abject despair to the ecstasy of complete possession, the lover's experiences and emotions are clearly portrayed.
It is a pleasure again to acknowledge the valuable assistance rendered the editor in all of his work upon Boker by Professor Arthur Hobson Quinn of the University of Pennsylvania. To Professor Felix E. Schelling of the University of Pennsylvania, my thanks are due for his valuable criticism of my work in manuscript. Greatest of all, perhaps, is the debt to the late Mrs. George Boker, daughter-in-law of the poet, who gave me the privilege of examining and publishing the manuscripts.
EDWARD SCULLEY BRADLEY