A History of Nineteenth Century Literature (1780-1895)

By George Saintsbury | Go to book overview

PREFACE

IN the execution of the present task (which I took over about two years ago from hands worthier than mine, but then more occupied) some difficulties of necessity occurred which did not present themselves to myself when I undertook the volume of Elizabethan Literature, or to my immediate predecessor in grappling with the period between 1660 and 1780.

The most obvious and serious of these was the question, "What should be done with living authors?" Independently of certain perils of selection and exclusion, of proportion and of freedom of speech, I believe it will be recognised by every one who has ever attempted it, that to mix estimates of work which is done and of work which is unfinished is to the last degree unsatisfactory. I therefore resolved to include no living writer, except Mr. Ruskin, in this volume for the purpose of detailed criticism, though some may be now and then mentioned in passing.

Even with this limitation the task remained a rather formidable one. Those who are least disposed to overvalue literary work in proportion as it approaches their own time will still acknowledge that the last hundred and fifteen years are fuller furnished than either of the periods of not very dissimilar length which have been already dealt with. The proportion of names

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