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PROLOGUE.

A nation's literature is the outcome of its whole life. To consider it apart from the antecedents and environments which form the national genius were to misapprehend its nature and its bearing. Its growth in kind and degree is determined by four capital agencies,- RACE, or hereditary dispositions; SURROUNDINGS, or physical and social conditions; EPOCH, or spirit of the age; PERSON, or reactionary and expressive force. Historical phenomena are not all to be resolved, as with Draper, into physiological; nor all to be explained, as with Buckle, by an a priori necessity; nor chiefly to be referred, as with Taine, to the sky, the weather, and the nerves. On the other hand, they are as far removed from an individual spontaneity as from a depressing fatalism. Personal genius remakes the society which evolves it. In so far as it rises above the table-land of national character, it not only expresses but intensifies the national type. Shakespeare and Bacon wrought under the circumstances of their birth, but were also, by their own supremacy, original and independent sources of influence. Yet progress is according to law. In the midst of eternal change is unity. The relations of the constants and the variables have the true marks of development. On a survey of the whole, human wills, however free, are seen to conform, under a general Providence, to a definite end.

A history of English Literature requires, therefore, a description of English soil and climate, of English thought and English character, as they exist when first the English people come upon the arena of history, of the growth of that character and that

thought, as they are colored by the foreign infusions of Celt, Roman, Dane, and Norman, or impressed and fostered by the new ideal — Christianity. Nor can any man understand the American mind who fails to appreciate its connection with English history, ancient and modern. On English soil were first developed what he most values in his ancestral spirit — the habits, the principles, and the faith, which have made this country to be what it is. As we have no American language which is not a graft on the English stock, though there be minor points of difference,—so we have no American literature which does not flow in a common stream of sentiment from English hearths and English altars. What combinations will hereafter manifest themselves in consequence of democratic tendencies and a gradual amalgamation with all the other nations of Europe, is an open question; but the distinctive features which have displayed themselves within the present century can hardly be deemed of sufficient strength to color or disturb the primitive current.

So far as a historical work may be intended to be an educational appliance, it obviously should be neither a presentation of chronological details nor a mere discussion of causes.

The high and natural destination of the soul is the full development of its moral and intellectual faculties. Hence knowledge is chiefly valuable as a means of mental activity. And since the desire of unity, and the necessity of referring effects to their causes, are the mainspring of energy, the knowledge that a thing is,- that a certain author wrote certain books, that a certain book contains a certain passage, that a certain passage contains a certain opinion,- is far less important than the knowledge how or why it is,- how the author, the book, the opinion are related, as consequent and antecedent, to some dominant idea or moral state; how this idea or state is shaped by natural bent and constraining force; how, from this primitive bent and moulding

force, we may see in advance, and half predict the character of human events and productions; how beneath literary remains we can unearth the beatings of living hearts centuries ago, as the lifeless wreck of a shell is a clue to the entire and living existence. The one is a knowledge of objects as isolated; the other, of objects as connected. The first gives facts; the second gives power. An individual may possess an ample magazine of the former, and still be little better than a barbarian. Accordingly I have aimed at the golden mean,-a judicious union of facts and philosophy, of narrative and reflection, of objective description and subjective meditation. Color and form may be desirable to attract the eye, but the interlacing, spiritual force, that blends them into harmony and coherence, is required to make their lesson disciplinary, available, and enduring.

Again, it is a law of intelligence that the greater the number of objects to which our consciousness is simultaneously extended, the smaller is the intensity with which it is able to consider each, and therefore the less vivid and distinct will be the information obtained. If the points considered are intermingled, the rays are not brought to a focus, and the mental eye, — following the lines, but nowhere abiding,- instead of a clear and well-defined image, perceives only a shadowy and confused outline. Now, to the ordinary student, it is believed that the treatment of authors in our current text-books presents the fantastic groupings of the kaleidoscope,-a bewildering show. In the whirl and entanglement of topics, he sees nothing in an undivided light, and receives no lasting and organic impressions. He reads passively, conceives feebly, and forgets speedily. Therefore each leading author is here discussed under the classified heads of BIOGRAPHY, Writings, STYLE, Rank, CHARACTER, and INFLUENCE. Others are added when rising into special interest and signifi

One thing at a time is the accepted condition for all efficient activity. While the topics are logically related as the

canice.

more or less interdependent parts of a whole, each receives the amplest justice by being made in its turn the central subject of thought. The mind in its work thus becomes more animated and energetic, because its ideas are kindred, all converging to a definite because to a single impression. By such an arrangement, moreover, the logical powers are trained, and the student unconsciously acquires a habit of bringing, in writing or speaking, his thoughts out of chaos into order.

Further, a great man, his career, his example, his ideas, can take no strong and permanent hold of the heart and mind, until these have become an integral part of our established asscciations of thoughts, feelings, and desires. But this can only be accomplished by time. The attention must be detained till the subject becomes real, as the face of a friend; fixed, as the sun and stars: then the energies of apprehension, of judgment, of sympathy, are aroused; and images, principles, truths, sentiments, though the words be forgotten, become fadeless acquisitions, assimilated into the very substance of the student's living self. Hence, as the end of liberal education is the cultivation of the student through the awakened exercise of his faculties, the authors studied should be relatively few and representative. Time is wasted and the powers are dissipated by attempting too much. Preëminent authors are creative and pictorial, reflecting, with singular fidelity, the peculiarities of their age; and by limiting the discussion to such, the student acquires the most in learning the least.

Regarding language as an apparatus for the conveyance of thought, and mindful that whatever force is absorbed by the machine is deducted from the result, I have carefully excluded polemical and conjectural matter from the body of the work, have seldom diverted attention by introduction of foot-notes, and have employed dates but sparingly. · Biography,' says Lowell, “from day to day holds dates cheaper and facts dearer,'

— not all facts, indeed, but the essential ones, those of psychological purport, which underlie the life and make the individual man, To the same end -economy of mental energy

- the early poets, including Chaucer, are presented in a more or less modernized form, with an occasional retention of the antique dialect for its illustrative uses.

Neither the artist nor his art, as before stated, can be understood and estimated independently of his times. No enlarged or profound conception of intellectual culture is possible without completeness of view, without a well-defined notion of the other elements of society, and of those products designed to convince of truth or to arouse to action, as well as of those whose prime object is to address the imagination or to please the taste. Consequently, each of the periods, into which the work is divided according to what seemed their predominant characteristics, is introduced by a sketch of the features which distinguish it, and of the forces which go to shape it, including POLITICS, the state of SOCIETY, RELIGION, POETRY, the DRAMA, the Novel, the PERIODICAL, History, THEOLOGY, Ethics, SciENCE, PHILOSOPHY. No one who aspires now to literary power can afford to be ignorant of the scientific phase of modern thought. The educational value of philosophy is peculiarly apparent in its effects on the culture and discipline of the mind,- to quicken it, to teach it precision, to lead it to inquire into the causes and relations of things, to awaken it to a vigorous and varied exertion. Not less salutary in this point of view, and far more so in another, are theology and ethics. Moral culture and religious growth cannot be excluded from any just conception of education. Broadly stated, it is of vast moment to the student to reflect upon the motives and springs of human action, to face the unexplained mystery of thought, to ask himself, What is right, and what wrong; what am I, and whither going; what my history, and my destiny?

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