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who have, during their whole existence, really thought and written. Among the ancients, the Latin literature is worth nothing at the outset; then it borrowed, and became imitative. Among the moderns, German literature does not exist for nearly two centuries. Italian literature and Spanish literature end at the middle of the seventeenth century. Only ancient Greece, modern France, and England offer a complete series of significant monuments."
The student of English literature has entered upon a broad field,-one so vast, indeed, that a life-time of study will enable him to master only parts of the stupendous whole which lies before him. He should approach the work with an earnest, inquiring spirit and an enthusiastic desire for knowledge and inental improvement. He should not rest content with merely superficial attainments, but should strive for that thoroughness without which there is neither true excellence nor enjoyment. He must not expect to find the whole of English literature in a single book or
any number of books. It is not a mere array of names and dates, of short biographical sketches, and select quotations from standard authors. Neither does it consist of a series of ingenious and sentimental speculations relative to the love-affairs, the religious opinions, the politics, of great writers. It deals primarily with books; and the study of these books necessarily involves the investigation of every important circumstance connected with their production.
To acquire any serviceable knowledge of a book, the student must become familiar with the conditions under which it was first conceived. He must become acquainted with the history of the country and of the period which produced it. Moreover, he should seek to trace the influence which that book has exerted, or is likely to exert, upon subsequent events. For there is a mutual and allimportant interdependence between history and literature which should never be overlooked. “A book is the offspring of the aggregate intellect of humanity,” and it gives back to humanity, in the shape of new ideas and new
combinations of old ideas, not only all that it has derived from it, but more—increased intellectual vitality, and springs of action hitherto unknown.
For the proper understanding and enjoyment of a book, a knowledge of its author is often important and sometimes necessary.
But the value of this kind of biographical knowledge has been frequently and very generally overestimated. The excellence of Shakspeare's works is no whit diminished by the paucity of our knowledge concerning his life. The Lady of the Lake may be thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed by those who have never heard of Sir Walter Scott, and but little would be added to the real value of the Junius Letters should the mystery of their authorship be solved. But a knowledge of the political, social, and religious environment is more frequently indispensable.
Again, the earnest student will be interested in tracing the influences of climate, of geographical position, of race, of surroundings, upon a people's modes of thought. He will perceive how these modes of thought have imparted individuality and character to the literature, and then how literature has exerted a reflex action upon the character of the people. A study of literature, therefore, includes a thorough and systematic study of history. Properly pursued, it will embrace also a knowledge of geography, of ethnology, psychology, sociology, and all those branches of science which have to do with man in his intellectual capacity and in his relations to his fellow-man.
Still further, in order to appreciate a book and its author's modes of thought and expression, and to profit by its study to the fullest extent, the student should acquire a certain knowledge of the laws of rhetoric. And here the reflex influences of literature and a study of literature are seen to the greatest advantage. For in what better way can we secure a knowledge of correct and elegant modes of thought and expression than by the study of the style and language of our best writers? Thus the study of literary criticism becomes of high importance. What has this famous critic said about the book we are studying ? Why does he speak thus favorably or thus unfavorably of the work? By what means, or for what reasons, have different critics arrived at opinions so diverse ? In the consideration of such questions as these, the student himself becomes insensibly a critic. His powers of observation are sharpened, his taste is improved, his judgment is cultivated.
In short, any study of literature, worthy to be called such, is so comprehensive in its character as not only to embrace a knowledge of books and of authors, but to bring into action almost every faculty of our minds, and to make us, in a degree, acquainted with all that pertains to the mental and social development of man. Properly pursued, it is able to increase to an infinite degree our means for self-improvement and our capacity for intellectual enjoyment.
The literature of every people has two great divisions, one of which is called Poetry, the other Prose. The earliest as well as the greatest works produced in the Englishı language belong to the first of these divisions. Poetry is the spontaneous outburst of the nobler feelings of the soul. It appeals mainly to our imaginative faculties and to our sense of the beautiful, the true, the sublime. In its aim and tendency, it is a fine art, entertaining and teaching us by awakening our minds into sympathy with the higher and diviner side of things. Prose, on the other hand, is matter-of-fact, dealing directly with our understandings and with the every-day necessities of our nature. Its function is both to instruct and to give delight; but it deals in the realities, or at least in the probabilities, of life, and appeals rather to our judgment than to our imagination.
In the present volume, we shall endeavor to direct the student to a systematic study and a practical knowledge of English poetry-to point out the methods and the means by which he may acquire a direct and personal acquaintanceship with that branch of English literature. We shall direct his attention first and principally to books, and to the opinions of our best critics concerning them. We shall urge upon him the necessity of a thorough knowledge of the times and the circumstances which produced those works, and shall indicate the means by which he can best acquire that knowledge. We shall send him to books of history for historical facts, and to books of biography for the necessary information concerning the lives of our authors. We shall quote only such parts of the books or the poems treated as are necessary either to arouse an interest in them or to assist in the proper conception of their merits. We shall make frequent short extracts from the most noted critical writers on English poetry, thereby introducing the student to a practical acquaintance with the best examples of literary criticism. No single book is English literature; no single book can teach English literature. The best book can be no more than a guide, directing the student in the way by which he may acquire a beneficial knowledge of some portion of that vast subject. And it is such a guide that the present work aspires to be.
Poetry hath, in the noblest nations and languages that are known, ever been the first light-giver to ignorance. Let learned Greece, in any of her manifold sciences, be able to show me one book before Musæus, Homer, and Hesiod, all three nothing less than poets. So among the Romans were Livius, Andronicus, and Ennius. So in the Italian language, the first that made it aspire to be a treasure-house of science were the poets Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch. So in our English were Gower and Chaucer: after whom, encouraged and delighted with their excellent foregoing, others have followed to beautify our mothertongue, as well in the same kind as other arts.
SIR PHILIP SIDNEY.
Poetry hath something divine in it, because it raiseth the mind and hurrieth it into sublimity by conforming the shows of things to the desires of the soul, instead of subjecting the soul to external things as reason and his
As imagination bodies forth
Now poesy is the habit or the art; nay, rather the queen of arts, which had her original from heaven, received thence from the Hebrews, and had in prime estimation with the Greeks, transmitted to the Latins and all nations