Five Poems, 1470-1870: An Elementary Essay on the Background of English Literature

Five Poems, 1470-1870: An Elementary Essay on the Background of English Literature

Five Poems, 1470-1870: An Elementary Essay on the Background of English Literature

Five Poems, 1470-1870: An Elementary Essay on the Background of English Literature

Excerpt

This short book is an experimental attempt to present some of the contents of histories of literature in an abbreviated form through particular examples. Histories as against brief outlines of literature, because of the mass of detail they comprise, usually fail to make a vivid impression and turn for practical purposes into books of reference. As such they may be most valuable, but this is not what they set out to be. They purport to give information about separate authors, to deliver critical opinions on them, and to place them in the general thought-background of their epochs. Their method is usually that of the medieval chronicle or chronicle poem, beginning with A and traversing the whole alphabet to Z. So much detail is inimical to any vivid generalisation. It may be that a more selective method will prove more emphatic, at any rate for the beginner. Nor need such a method sacrifice the whole of that continuity which is implied by the very word history. If the series A to Z is continuous, it follows that B will in some way imply both A and C. I have thought therefore that as an experiment it might be worth dealing with a few pregnant instances, in the hope that general notions may tell more strongly when reached through the particular and that the changes of temper or doctrine observable from one instance to another may suggest a continuous development. There is warrant for this method in Santayana Interpretations of Poetry and Religion.

I have spent a good deal of thought in choosing my examples. I preferred poems to prose works as being more concentrated and I have chosen poems of manageable length, neither very long nor very short. I hope the reader will agree that the poems are both concentrated and highly typical of their ages. Two happy accidents have blessed the choice. Each poem belongs to a different . . .

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