English Literature: An Illustrated Record

English Literature: An Illustrated Record

English Literature: An Illustrated Record

English Literature: An Illustrated Record

Excerpt

The design of the publisher of this work has been to produce a book which shall stimulate and gratify curiosity concerning the leading authors of our country and the evolution of its literary history. This curiosity is not to be confined within the limits of an acquaintance with a few dry manuals. It appeals to the eye as well as to the ear, and as the reader becomes attracted to the writings of this or that writer, and feels his enthusiasm enkindled, he desires to know, and to know instantly and without disturbance, not only who the writer was and what he wrote, but what he looked like; perhaps at various ages; where he lived, what his handwriting was, and how he appeared in caricature to his contemporaries.

No book has hitherto been presented to the public which has fulfilled these various requirements, since it has only recently become possible to review the English literature of fifteen successive centuries, and give a carefully-related history of it all, illustrated by the necessary documents. The research of the last generation of scholars, however, has at length put the outlines within our reach, and has even enabled us to fill up the design with form and colour. If there is now a danger for the general reader, it is that too much may be offered him by specialists who can only measure his requirements by their own limitless zeal. A popular history which supplies too much is hardly more useful than one which supplies too little. The present volumes are called by their authors a "record"; they profess to be no more, but in producing such a rapid survey or outline of our literary history the greatest pains have been taken to make it harmonious in design and to see that the parts are carefully arranged according to their relative importance.

To the running commentary which pervades the volumes (and which may, of the reader wishes, be read alone as a critical narrative) have been added brief biographies of writers selected with the utmost care from the vast army of those who have exercised the profession of letters in Great Britain for so many centuries. It has been far easier to include the obvious names than to exclude those which did not seem quite fitted for a place in this rapid "record." The authors have carefully weighed the value of every reputation which could . . .

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