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THE NEW YORK
ASTOR, LENOX AND
HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY
JUSTLY EMINENT AS
IN FRIENDSHIP AS HE IS
4 4 X509
The present collection is intended to serve as a supplement to a general course in the history of English literature, from its beginnings to the end of the Victorian era. With our modern methods of teaching, which insist upon some knowledge of the works of the authors, in addition to the study of literary history and biography, collections of this kind have become almost indispensable. In the rapid survey of the whole extent of English literary history, which is often undertaken before any careful and minute study of an especial author, or period, or literary form, is begun, the student is apt to find himself confused and discouraged by references to authors whose names mean nothing to him, and to works with whose very titles he is unfamiliar. Many of the books referred to are expensive, or, for some other reason, not readily accessible; 1 some of these are only obtainable in an English which repels him by its strangeness, or which he finds wholly unintelligible. In any case, to master all of the works mentioned in such a general course would be the labor not of a college year, but of a life time. Even if it were possible, such omnivorous reading would be far from desirable in this early stage of literary study. One whose immediate purpose is to fix clearly in his mind the topography of a whole continent, who seeks to see distinctly the general trend of its coast-line, the general disposition of its great mountain ranges, its rivers, and its plains, will do well to disregard for the time the windings of some obscure and tributary stream. The familiar words of Bacon have lost none of their force by frequent repetition: "Some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” A few pages are enough to give one a very fair notion of the general character of the AngloSaxon Chronicle, and a chapter or two of Bede's Ecclesiastical History will at least help to make that book something more than a disembodied title, and clothe it with the form and substance of reality. That such a method of approach is, and should be, a mere preliminary to fuller studies, is obvious enough: that it is a wise, almost a necessary, preliminary, few sensible persons will, I think, be disposed to deny.
To represent a vast, varied, and ancient literature like the English,-a literature practically limitless,-in a book of reasonable compass, and in a manner at all adequate to the student's needs, is no easy task. The present collection is the result of more than twenty years of effort and experiment. As long ago as 1892, I published a volume containing a number of representative English masterpieces in prose and verse, with a setting of historical and biographical comment. This was followed by a collection of Standard English Poems, from Spenser to Tennyson; a companion book of Standard English Prose, from Bacon to Stevenson; and a collection of Early English Poems, translated or modernized in collaboration with Dr. J. Duncan Spaeth, of Princeton University. The three books last named have been used freely in the making of the present collection; but while many of the old selections have been retained, I have taken advantage of this opportunity for revision and rearrangement, so that the present book is not a mere consolidation
1 Rolle's Pricke of Conscience, is a glaring example of a book which is constantly referred to, and practically very difficult to procure. I know several large libraries that have not a single copy of it in any form, and have, so far, been unable to secure one.
of its predecessors into one volume, but virtually a new collection. In the interests of proportion, some of the poetical selections in the Old and Middle English periods have been omitted; illustrations of English prose before Bacon have been introduced; while many new selections, most of them from 18th and 19th century authors, have also been added. So much space has been saved by increasing the size of the page, and by greatly reducing the length of the notes, that the amount of text in the present volume is materially greater than that in its three predecessors combined.
In a book of this character, the needs of the teacher must be the first consideration. To be practically useful, such a supplementary collection as this must include at least a large proportion of the authors usually considered or incidentally referred to in the class-room; it must contain, at least, certain famous poems, with which every cultivated reader is familiar; and it must contain, at least, wellknown passages from the monumental masterpieces of prose. To supply these needs, one must be content to follow in the well-beaten track, made smooth by innumerable anthologists; he must, of necessity, provide again those inevitable masterpieces which no well regulated anthology could possibly be without.
But, when this primary requirement has been met (as fully and faithfully as space and the personal limitations of the editor allow), there still remains a wide field for liberty of choice. The treasures of English literature are practically inexhaustible; we can say of it, as the English Chancellor said of the law, "the Lord forbid, that any man should know it all.” When the paramount needs of teacher and student shall have been satisfied, an editor will do well, I think, in the interest of freshness and variety, to give some hint of the queer nooks and less-trodden paths that wait to be explored. We are sometimes prone to become a trifle narrow and conventional in our literary judgments, to regard not so much what we like as what we are expected to like, and to pay too exclusive a reverence to the "canonical books." We must remember, moreover, that a book like the present is, after all, intended to awaken and foster a love of literature in readers whose taste is at best immature. While such a book ought certainly to give the inevitable and indispensable masterpieces, we should remember that for some the real quickener of the spirit may prove to be a comparatively obscure and little-regarded work, long relegated, perhaps, to the literary apocrypha. “The appreciation of Lycidas," said Mark Pattison, with a rare wisdom, "is the last reward of a consummated scholarship.”
While I have not made any very daring innovations, I have, accordingly, not hesitated to follow my own judgment, and include some authors and selections, both ancient and modern, not usually found in a book of this kind. For instance, in the earlier literature, the thirteenth, early fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries (times fuller of vital literature than we are apt to realize), have been represented with comparative fullness; while in recent times, I have included such writers as John Richard Green, F. W. H. Myers, Leslie Stephen, and two living authors, Frederic Harrison and Austin Dobson, who, as I had resolved to exclude contemporary authors, were not strictly eligible. The choice of selections must be of necessity a compromise between the often conflicting claims of many requirements; but, so far as I could do so in justice to other needs, I have tried to make a book that would be not merely “educational,”-in our restricted sense,-but one that could be read with interest and pleasure.