The Strenuous Life to Blame
I believe that if poetry attracts less attention from the public than formerly, it is not the fault of the poets, but is chiefly a result of what we term "the strenuous life." Existence has little repose, and the cultivation and love of poetry require a detached spirit and a certain amount of leisure. It is a taste which should be developed in youth; and the young—both men and maidens—are too absorbed and overstimulated by the various college, and kindred, sports to find pleasure in the tranquil service of the Muse.
Some one, recently, has well described the appearance of an English town after the Races: the relaxed and enervated condition of the entire people making all ordinary avocations seem flat, stale, unprofitable. The excitement of the football field prepares the way for the excitement of the gaming table and the Exchange, and still, with the multitudinous victims of these progressive passions, there is less and less leisure, less and less appetite, for elevated reading or thought.
Happily for the world, however, there is the "Remnant"—a considerable remnant—which values the ideal, and turns to poetry for solace, uplifting, and delight. Aside from the poets of the first magnitude, there is verse being written, as exquisite as any that has blessed mankind. The standard is high, and of itself proves the interest felt in the subject by "the minds that matter." Shelley wrote many things which would be accepted by no criticism of our day, and reputations were made where there would be only censure now.
The law of self-preservation—of race-preservation—is strong within us: man will weary of the exaggerations of football, the race-course, and the Exchange, and will return to the cultivation of those calmer joys which appertain to the immortal part of him. "The future of poetry," says Arnold, "is immense," and I believe with Wordsworth that "Poetry is immortal as the heart of man!"
- from the Introduction (written by Matthew Arnold) of The English Poets by Thomas Humphrey Ward [ed.], 1881.