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THE word Literature is used, in its broadest sense, to designate all of the written productions of every age and every people. Properly restricted, however, it refers only to those writings which are, or have been, of general interest to man, and which are the results of labor and the offspring of genius. The literature of a country is, from the very nature of its production, the reflection of the character and the inner life of the people of that country. It acquaints us with matters pertaining to their social and moral condition, and gives us an insight into their modes of action and their manner of thought. Bringing us, as it does, into contact with the master-minds of past ages, and making us familiar with the best thoughts of the greatest thinkers, its study can scarcely fail to exert a powerful influence towards strengthening and refining our own intellectual faculties.
English literature includes all that has been written in the English language,—whether by Englishmen or by Americans,--and which from the excellence of its character has been deemed worthy of preservation. The literature of no other people is so interesting or so complete; none have written on such a variety of subjects or with greater care and skill. “It is rare to find,” says M. Taine, “a people with a literature so grand. There are few nations 1