Essays, Historical & Literary

Essays, Historical & Literary

Essays, Historical & Literary

Essays, Historical & Literary

Excerpt

The seven essays contained in this volume represent a great historian's excursions into the debatable land open to students of history and literature alike, and are admirable illustrations of the kind of contribution the historian can make towards the solution of literary problems. Though the subjects vary, there is much similarity of treatment. In most of them consideration is given to the sources on which the writer under discussion based his narrative or from which he derived his inspiration. A historian might very naturally select this approach when discussing Raleigh History of the World or Milton History of Britain, because to assess the value of the different kinds of evidence is fundamental. What is remarkable is the success of much the same method in literary studies. In the essay on Bunyan Pilgrim's Progress, the sources of the allegory are shown to be the circumstances of the author's own life, the world at large so far as Bunyan knew it, and certain books--Firth's demonstration of the allegorist's indebtedness to medieval romances being a novel and important contribution. In the essay on Gulliver's Travels, it is proved that Swift often drew upon contemporary events in England for the parts of the book he first wrote; when he resumed his writing ten years later, however, his mind was more concerned with Ireland than with England, and the third and fourth voyages have many disguised references to Irish politics.

The historian's task is only half done when he has examined his sources, for there still remains the composition of his book. Similarly, the analysis of the sources was only half, if as much, of Firth's contribution in these essays. In the paper on Raleigh History of the World . . .

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