A History of English Literature - Vol. 1

A History of English Literature - Vol. 1

A History of English Literature - Vol. 1

A History of English Literature - Vol. 1

Excerpt

The literature of the English language, one of the literatures richest in original beauty, is the most extensive ever known to the world. Literary production in the past and the present, taken together, has attained to a greater mass in English than in any other tongue, ancient or modern. Long though this work be, it does not attempt to cover the whole field. It has confined itself to the English literature of the British Islands, leaving to others both the literature of the United States and the literature of the various British dominions, a vast subject which is growing with prodigious rapidity. Only by forgoing any picture of literary expression overseas, has it been possible to trace the history of English literature not too superficially, and to show its development coherently and harmoniously, because with unity of place.

This history was first written for the students of English who, year by year, are becoming more numerous in the universities of France. Its appeal was also to all those Frenchmen who have a curiosity regarding England and things English, who desire to reduce the results of scattered reading to order, to grasp the dominating features of succeeding periods and follow the reflection in books of the development of a great people. The authors had not the ambition to reach the English public, which was, they already knew, richly provided with histories of literature, both erudite and brilliant, ample or condensed, the productions of one or of several minds.

The expectation of the authors was therefore exceeded when their work was so favourably received in Great Britain that its translation into English was deemed desirable. It may be that their enterprise was thus fortunate partly because of the character they intentionally gave it. Their experience as university professors had warned them that, if they were to prepare their own students for knowledge of a foreign literature, they must take into account certain demands proper to the mentality of their nation: they must satisfy that need for connected composition, for the presentment of a chain of facts and ideas, without which the French do not easily assimilate the matter they study. The unforeseen result of the method they therefore pursued was that the English critics found in their book a certain novelty; they considered that even in English it would not overlap with any other work, but would be attractive and useful, Moreover, the authors' view of English . . .

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