National Life and Character in the Mirror of Early English Literature

National Life and Character in the Mirror of Early English Literature

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National Life and Character in the Mirror of Early English Literature

National Life and Character in the Mirror of Early English Literature

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Excerpt

The purpose of this study is to examine and set forth the ever-developing character of the Englishman in the successive ages of his early career, until modern life begins, together with the corresponding development of political and social life which determines and, at the same time, is determined by it; "to hold, as 't were, the mirror up to nature," as the centuries pass by; "to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure."

The method employed will be, as far as it is possible, to permit the Englishman to speak for himself, while we use his words as self-revelations of his life and thought and character. Thus one may hope to minimise the errors which arise from fallacious reasonings and biassed judgments, and to attain more closely to scientific accuracy and truthfulness.

So for the material for our work we turn to the literature in which each age has left us a reflection of itself, remembering that no literature is merely fortuitous or accidental, but springs from the very heart of the nation in which it lives; that a true poet is never independent and self-contained in his art, but derives his inspiration from the great movements of his time, paints his pictures from the men and the life he sees about him, and is encouraged and uplifted by the sympathies of those whose hearts leap at his words because he has sounded the depths of their humanity. A literature is but the means by which the aspirations and ideals of a nation find expression in an abiding form.

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