« PreviousContinue »
literature, a knowledge of all those springs of action which influence a people's modes of thought and expression is in the highest degree valuable. The study of history should go
hand in hand with the study of literature—and, in fact, is indispensable. And, finally, it will be observed that a systematic study of literature involves a knowledge of all those branches of science which have to do with man in his intellectual capacity or in his relations with his fellowmen. Regarding the matter in this light, the subject becomes a very extensive one-as extensive almost as human thought itself.
Viewed as a means of intellectual culture, or in its aspects merely as a fine art, the importance of a study of literature in the manner which we have indicated becomes still more apparent. A careful observation of the style of expression employed by the greatest English writers can scarcely fail to lead to a finer appreciation of those peculiarities of discourse which lend beauty and strength and harmony and vivacity to our language. And thus a practical application of the principles of rhetoric is secured, involuntarily and without apparent effort. Then, again, by being brought into contact, as it were, with the masterminds of past ages, and by becoming familiar with the worthiest thoughts of the greatest thinkers, our intellectual faculties are not only enlarged and strengthened, but refined and cultivated.
English literature is not contained in a single book, nor in any specified number of books. No single volume can teach English literature. The best text-book is that which
will direct the student what to study, how to study, and how best to apply the knowledge acquired by that study. It is hoped that the present work will, in some measure, perform the office of such a guide, and that it will serve as a practical introduction to the study of the best and most notable works in the English language. The chronological arrangement usually adopted in books upon this subject has been in most part abandoned for the more natural arrangement by which works of a similar character are grouped and studied together and compared with each other. The student's attention is directed first and principally to books, rather than to authors; and the opinions of our best critics concerning these books are fully and freely quoted. For historical information regarding the times in which these works were produced, and the circumstances which brought them forth, the student is referred to books of history; and for a knowledge of the lives of the men and women who wrote them, he is sent to books of biography. Illustrative extracts are frequently given, but only such as are deemed necessary either to arouse an interest in the works under discussion, or to assist the student in forming a just conception of their literary merits. From books which are easy of access or generally known, fewer selections are quoted; for the student should, whenever possible, eschew extracts and turn to the books themselves. The best versions and the most approved texts have been generally followed, and, with but few exceptions, the orthography and punctuation of the originals have been carefully preserved. Except in rare cases,
where it was thought that such references would be a