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AEDMON, sing me something." Then he answered and said, “I cannot sing, and for that I went out from the ban
quet and came hither, because I could not sing.” Then said he who was speaking, “But you can sing for me." And he said, “What shall I sing?” And he said, “Sing me of creation,” and he began to sing :
"Nu we sculon herigean heofonrices Weard,
Thus, according to tradition, our literature began more than a thousand years ago. The study of this literature is an inspiring subject, revealing the range and variety of thought during a period of ten centuries, picturing the inner life of those changing years, and employing the various forms of expression which our language has assumed from its early beginnings to the more perfect richness and complexity of to-day. This book has assembled a notable selection of representative poetry and prose, chosen with a view to its appeal to the reader and student of the greatest of modern literatures.
There is cultural value that can scarcely be exaggerated in presenting our literature in chronological order. Best in this way, we believe, can be presented the elements that have been woven into the wonderful fabric which has been handed down by those who have made this invaluable contribution to modern civilization. Here are represented the writers of English literature whose names have now become household words. Here we are able to read the story of the
hope and joy, the sorrow and despair, the fixed resolve and the unquenchable aspiration of those who have striven and labored and held on high the torch of clear thinking, of high ideals, and of worthy living.
Here we behold the dawn of a new literature, the gradual mastery of word and phrase through which artistic perfection of many kinds is attained. Among this distinguished company are the poets, essayists, and novelists who have expressed in lasting form the meaning which they found in the interesting world about them.
The most satisfactory method for any person who wishes to gain the greatest profit and pleasure from literature is to read it, unencumbered with so-called “helps” and annotations. Its highest function is not to inform but to delight. We have tried to supply a thread of simple, critical comment, as introductory to the respective sections, to which the reader may turn for assistance in acquiring a connected story of the development of English literature. But we believe this is secondary in importance to the literature itself which is its own best advocate. For the intimate association that attaches to the representation of the writers themselves, we have here reproduced the portraits of some of the best known of English poets, prose writers, and novelists.
We cherish the hope that this book, brought together after many years of pleasurable reading and choosing, may point the way to some of the greatest delights and happiest experiences that can come to those who will to live fully and nobly.
Sir Francis Drake on the Pacific Coast 81 Fashionable Ladies
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
Like as the waves make toward the pebbled shore