Page images
PDF
EPUB

PREFACE

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; 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.

On the other hand, especial care has been taken to make the book practically helpful and suggestive on the historical side. Besides the chronological arrangement, the division into literary periods, the insertion of biographical dates, and such obvious aids to the student, wherever it was practicable the selections have been so chosen, that the authors speak for themselves, and reveal their own characters, or the plan and purpose of their works. Thus, Bede, Alfred, Layamon, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Caxton, Burton, and many others, tell us directly about their lives, their characters, or the making of their books. We learn of Spenser's hot anger at the intrigues and procrastinations of the Court, from his own lips; we listen to Greene's tragic self-reproaches; while Milton's unconquerable nobility of spirit under the chastisement of blindness and disappointment, and Scott's no less splendid fortitude, lie open to us, with no medium of critic or commentator between their souls and ours. To study literary history in such a fashion is to drink from the fountain-head.

Care has also been taken to introduce selections illustrative of literary history, and, so far as possible, to make one selection explain or supplement another. For instance, we can follow up our reading of Cædmon's Hymn and Bede's Death Song, with Bede's story of Cædmon, and with Cuthbert's Letter on the Death of Bede; we can study Dr. Johnson in his prose and poetry, we can see him through the eyes of Boswell "in his habit as he lived," or again, we can look back and, with Macaulay and Carlyle, regard both Johnson and Boswell in that perspective which time only can supply. Many of the biographical and critical selections can be made in this way to serve a double purpose, for when one great author writes of another, he tells us something not only of his subject but of himself. Or again, we can see how the same experience, or the same problem, has impressed different minds. As we read the account of the fire of London in Evelyn or in Pepys, we see something more than confusion, terror, and burning houses, -we see with an equal distinctness the contrasted natures of the two men. Or if we would understand the widely different impressions made upon thoughtful men by the material progress and scientific spirit of the last century, we can gain some notion of it by contrasting the utterances of Macaulay and Newman, of Huxley and of Ruskin and Carlyle. Hence, while a general adherence to chronology in the arrangement of the selections was manifestly advisable, the order in which the selections are read may be modified by the teacher at his discretion, for many selections may be found to belong together in spirit and to be separated only by the accident of time.

As the book is intended primarily for students who are approaching the subject from the purely literary side, all the selections from the Old and Middle English periods (with the single exception of Chaucer) have been translated or modernized. For a few of the renderings I have gone to Tennyson, Henry Morley, or others; some of them have been made by Dr. Percy V. D. Shelly for the present book; but by far the greater number are versions, made by Dr. J. Duncan Spaeth or by myself, which have already appeared in the Early English Poems. In any case, the object has been to furnish the student with a version which, while it gives the meaning of the original, preserves something, at least, of its illusive spirit and its poetic form. Every one agrees, that to be good a translation must be accurate; but many confuse the deeper faithfulness to one's original, with a merely servile and literal accuracy, forgetting that, especially in translating poetry, there is an

obligation to be faithful to the spirit as well as to the letter, and that the letter without the spirit is dead.

Translation or modernization was necessary if the earlier literature were to be made generally accessible, but the original texts have been changed as little as was consistent with this object, and in many cases obsolete words or quaint and unusual expressions have been retained and explained. In order that the student may have some idea of the nature and extent of these changes, and have some concrete reminder of the slow growth of the language, short passages from the earlier authors are given in the appendix in their original form.

To give the reader ready access to the author, it was not enough to clear away the barriers of an unfamiliar language, there were also obscure allusions, involved or ambiguous expressions, or other difficulties, which it was necessary to explain. In such cases the necessary explanation has been given at the foot of the page. I have tried to make these notes as few in number, as brief and as unobtrusive as I possibly could. Except in a few cases, I have confined myself to a short explanation of some real difficulty in the text. Biographical and critical matter has been introduced very sparingly, and I have often refrained from giving the source of a quotation, believing that the formal reference to an ancient and little-read book was of no real help to the student. The traditional commentator is not unlike the traditional policeman, always on hand except when he is really needed, and the middle path between the too-little and the too-much is a hard one to hit or to follow.

The practice of giving complete works, rather than fragments or “extracts," has been followed in this book, as in its predecessors, wherever circumstances allowed. But to hold rigidly to this practice in all cases (and especially where one is dealing with prose) would entail too great a sacrifice. Most of the selections are, however, either literally or essentially complete; while in cases where this was impracticable, I have tried to make the selection intelligible by explanatory notes, or by an abstract of the portion omitted. As the drama and fiction could not be adequately represented by extracts, and as it was obviously impossible to give an entire novel or play, it seemed best to leave these two important divisions of literature unrepresented. I have, however, given a few passages, not scenes,-from the Elizabethan dramatists, which can be read purely as poetry, and, for the convenience of the teacher, I have inserted a short specimen of a Miracle, and of a Moral play in the appendix.

One personal conviction it may, perhaps, be permissible for me to express here, for a preface is a spot which even an impersonal editor can call his own. The chief business of the teacher of English literature is to lead the student to read the right things in the right way. The student must be taught to interpret, possibly “to contradict and to confute," but he must, above all, be taught to enjoy. The range of his enjoyment must be widened; his taste must be made more catholic, excluding nothing that is really significant or really excellent of its kind; yet he must be taught to discriminate, and trained to prefer in all sincerity the good to the inferior, and even above the good, to set the best. To this supreme object, all others, however curious or praiseworthy, must, after all, be made subordinate and contributory. The historical development of the literature, the lives, the characters, the personal peculiarities of authors, the "chatter about Harriet," the study of philology, the study of dates, or "sources,” the problems of text and

« PreviousContinue »