Richard Henry Dana, Sr. (essay date 1827)
SOURCE: "Preface to the First Edition of the Poems," in Poems and Prose Writings, Vol I, Baker and Scribner, 1850, pp. ix-xi.
[In the following preface to his first collection of poems, first published in 1827 and reissued in 1850 with a second volume of his poetry, Dana expresses his hopes for the public's favorable reception of his work, and comments on the partly factual source for "The Buccaneer. "
It is not without hesitation that I give this small volume [The Buccaneer and Other Poems] to the public; for no one can be more sensible than I am how much is necessary to the production of what may be rightly called poetry. It is true that something resembling it is oftentimes borne into instant and turbulent popularity, while a work of genuine character may be lying neglected by all except the poets. But the tide of time flows on, and the former begins to settle to the bottom, while the latter rises slowly and steadily to the surface, and moves forward, for a spirit is in it.
It is a poor ambition to be anxious after the distinction of a day in that which, if it be fit to live at all, is to live for ages. It is wiser than all, so to love one's art that its distinctions shall be but secondary: and, indeed, he who is not so absorbed in it as to think of his fame only as one of its accidents had better save himself his toil; for the true power is not in him. Yet the most self-dependent are stirred to livelier action by the hope of fame, and there are none who can go on with vigour, without the sympathy of some few minds which they respect.
I will not say of my first tale ["The Buccaneer"] as Miss Edgeworth sometimes does of her improbabilities, "This is a fact"; but this much I may say: there are few facts so well vouched for, and few truths so fully believed in, as the account upon which I have grounded my story.
I shall not name the island off our New England coast upon which these events happened, and these strange appearances were seen; for islanders are the most sensitive creatures in the world in all that relates to their places of abode.
I have changed the time of the action—which was before the war of our Revolution—to that of the great contest in Spain; as the reader will see, in my making use of the Christian name of Lord Wellington...
(The entire section is 977 words.)