Sir William Temple's Essays on Ancient and Modern Learning and on Poetry

By J. E. Spingarn; William Temple | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTORY NOTE

TEMPLE'S fame has waned since the days when the essays here reprinted were Pope's favourite prose; but these still maintain their historical importance, for they represent a turning point in the development of English style, and in them something of the tone and temper of the eighteenth-century essay are already apparent. Goldsmith need not have told us that Temple's style was 'the model by which the best prose writers in the reign of Queen Anne formed theirs', nor Swift that Temple 'advanced our English tongue to as great perfection as it can well bear'; to read aloud a single essay is to discover for oneself this forgotten secret. Johnson suggested to Boswell at least one of the causes of this reforming power: 'Sir William Temple was the first writer who gave cadence to English prose. Before his time they were careless of arrangement, and did not mind whether a sentence ended with an important word or an insignificant word, or with what part of speech it was concluded.' But the charm was not merely the charm of cadence, nor that grace and musical eloquence which Temple had found in French prose and strove to

-iii-

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Sir William Temple's Essays on Ancient and Modern Learning and on Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Introductory Note iii
  • I. an Essay Upon the Ancient and Modern Learning 2
  • Ii. of Poetry 43
  • Notes 80
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