A reader of this book in manuscript wrote "it was difficult to perceive the audience you are writing for," since "parts appeared to be aimed at readers with fairly sophisticated backgrounds in literature and criticism" while other parts "seemed written for a much more general audience." I have written this book to give profit and delight. But to whom? Our terms for audiences of books about literature, like those above, or "students of . . ." or "specialists in . . ." seem to specify more than they possibly can. Most of those who pick up this book are, like its author, all these audiences, depending on the particular subject and the freshness of one's knowledge. No one will feel currently conversant with all the works and authors discussed here, and many will feel, with respect to certain authors and periods, that they know more, or see more deeply, than I do. A relatively short book about the literature of four centuries has no choice but to be "aimed at readers with fairly sophisticated backgrounds" and for "a much more general audience."
My argument can be simply stated: in recent centuries literary tradition has been made, or unmade, primarily by the relations authors have established with important writers in the immediately preceding generation. Since my aim has been to illustrate rather than to argue this point, and to avoid fighting its battles in favor of suggesting what can be seen when looking from its point of view, I have engaged little in polemics and have not sought to emerge with a theory. While for me this is mostly a tactic, for some it may well seem not only a complete strategy but an eva-