British Pamphleteers

British Pamphleteers

British Pamphleteers

British Pamphleteers

Excerpt

The present collection of pamphlets contains twenty-five specimens, reproduced either in whole or in part. They have been chosen for their representativeness as well as for their literary merit, and between them they cover the two centuries between the Reformation, with which English pamphleteering may be said to have started, and the War of American Independence. Later it is planned to issue a second series which will carry the history of the pamphlet down to our own times.

Mr. Reginald Reynolds, who has compiled and arranged this book, had to make his selection from a vast amount of material, as can be seen from the fact that 22,000 pamphlets and tracts of various kinds circulated in London merely between 1640 and 1661. The difficulty in a job like this is not merely to pick out the best pieces, but also to decide what is and what is not a pamphlet. To ask 'What is a pamphlet?' is rather like asking 'What is a dog?' We all know a dog when we see one, or at least we think we do, but it is not easy to give a clear verbal definition, nor even to distinguish at sight between a dog and some kindred creature such as a wolf or a jackal. The pamphlet is habitually confused with other things that are quite different from it, such as leaflets, manifestoes, memorials, religious tracts, circular letters, instructional manuals and indeed almost any kind of booklet published cheaply in paper covers. The true pamphlet, however, is a special literary form which has persisted without radical change for hundreds of years, though it has had its good periods and its bad ones. It is worth defining it carefully, even at the risk of seeming pedantic.

A pamphlet is a short piece of polemical writing, printed in the form of a booklet and aimed at a large public. One cannot lay down rigid rules about length, but evidently a leaflet containing nothing but the words DOWN WITH MUSSOLINI would not be a pamphlet, and neither would a book of the length of Candide or The Tale of a Tub. Probably a true pamphlet will always be somewhere between five hundred and ten thousand words, and it will always be unbound and obtainable for a few pence. A pamphlet is never written primarily to give entertainment or to make money. It is written because there is something that one wants to say now, and because one believes there is no other way of getting a hearing. Pamphlets may turn on points of ethics or theology, but they . . .

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