English Literature, 1789-1815

English Literature, 1789-1815

English Literature, 1789-1815

English Literature, 1789-1815

Excerpt

Like other writers in this series, I have to acknowledge my difficulty in keeping proportion. It is inevitable in any history of literature, and especially in a period when so many different things were happening at the same time to distract men's minds, and which is by now so heavily anthologized and diagrammatized. No disproportion is deliberate. I have neither indulged nor disguised my own tastes, but I have no thesis to force on the reader. My affair here is with people-- what they were doing, and, so far as I can observe or deduce or guess it, how and why.

Twenty-five years is short of the dignity of a 'Period', and indeed there are themes for which it is too short; but the editorial division is implicit testimony to the complexity of the time. My pragmatical rule has been, to include authors whose most characteristic work was published between 1789 and 1815 though their roots were in the past--such as Gilbert White and James Bruce; to consider the whole working life of such as Coleridge and Wordsworth, who made themselves before 1815 and thenceforth continued on the same lines; and to leave over, not without regret, the later work of some like Landor and Scott, who changed much of their practice about 1815. If I have poached, as in Burns, it is because I thought it useful in marking the course of things as I saw it.

To contrive some sort of order, certain kinds and processes of writing have been separated, though not strictly, into chapters. They must not be regarded as insulated from one another: they were contemporaneous, and most intelligent people were interested in most of them. The reader must do the adding-up for himself. Scotland has been considered separately, and at what some readers may think excessive length, in order to define certain conditions which have operated in the two kingdoms throughout the generations and become conspicuous in the time.

I have to thank many friends, but especially Mrs. J. T. Stevenson . . .

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