This book, which presents the whole splendid history of English
from Anglo-Saxon times to the close of the Victorian Era, has three
specific aims. The first is to create or to encourage in every student
desire to read the best books, and to know literature itself rather
what has been written about literature. The second is to interpret
literature both personally and historically, that is, to show how a
book generally reflects not only the author's life and thought but
spirit of the age and the ideals of the nation's history. The third
to show, by a study of each successive period, how our literature has
steadily developed from its first simple songs and stories to its
complexity in prose and poetry.
To carry out these aims we have introduced the following features:
(1) A brief, accurate summary of historical events and social
each period, and a consideration of the ideals which stirred the whole
nation, as in the days of Elizabeth, before they found expression in
(2) A study of the various literary epochs in turn, showing what each
gained from the epoch preceding, and how each aided in the development
(3) A readable biography of every important writer, showing how he
and worked, how he met success or failure, how he influenced his age,
how his age influenced him.
(4) A study and analysis of every author's best works, and of many of
books required for college-entrance examinations.
(5) Selections enough--especially from earlier writers, and from
not likely to be found in the home or school library--to indicate the
spirit of each author's work; and directions as to the best works to
and where such works may be found in inexpensive editions.
(6) A frank, untechnical discussion of each great writer's work as a
and a critical estimate of his relative place and influence in our
(7) A series of helps to students and teachers at the end of each
including summaries, selections for reading, bibliographies, a list of
suggestive questions, and a chronological table of important events in
history and literature of each period.
(8) Throughout this book we have remembered Roger Ascham's suggestion,
over three centuries ago and still pertinent, that "'tis a poor way to
a child love study by beginning with the things which he naturally
dislikes." We have laid emphasis upon the delights of literature; we
treated books not as mere instruments of research--which is the danger
most of our studies--but rather as instruments of enjoyment and of
inspiration; and by making our study as attractive as possible we have
sought to encourage the student to read widely for himself, to choose
best books, and to form his own judgment about what our first
writers called "the things worthy to be remembered."
To those who may use this book in their homes or in their class rooms,
writer ventures to offer one or two friendly suggestions out of his
experience as a teacher of young people. First, the amount of space
given to different periods and authors is not an index of the relative
amount of time to be spent upon the different subjects. Thus, to tell
story of Spenser's life and ideals requires as much space as to tell
story of Tennyson; but the average class will spend its time more
pleasantly and profitably with the latter poet than with the former.
Second, many authors who are and ought to be included in this history
not be studied in the class room. A text-book is not a catechism but a
storehouse, in which one finds what he wants, and some good things
Few classes will find time to study Blake or Newman, for instance; but
nearly every class there will be found one or two students who are
attracted by the mysticism of Blake or by the profound spirituality of
Newman. Such students should be encouraged to follow their own
to share with their classmates the joy of their discoveries. And they
should find in their text-book the material for their own study and
A third suggestion relates to the method of teaching literature; and
it might be well to consider the word of a great poet,--that if you
know where the ripest cherries are, ask the boys and the blackbirds.
surprising how much a young person will get out of the _Merchant of
Venice_, and somehow arrive at Shakespeare's opinion of Shylock and