French prose and French poetry had interested me during so many years that when Mr. Gosse invited me to write this book I knew that I was qualified in one particular—the love of my subject. Qualified in knowledge I was not, and could not be. No one can pretend to know the whole of a vast literature. He may have opened many books and turned many pages; he cannot have penetrated to the soul of all books from the Song of Roland to Toute la Lyre. ...
French prose and French poetry had interested me during so many years that when Mr. Gosse invited me to write this book I knew that I was qualified in one particular—the love of my subject. Qualified in knowledge I was not, and could not be. No one can pretend to know the whole of a vast literature. He may have opened many books and turned many pages; he cannot have penetrated to the soul of all books from the Song of Roland to Toute la Lyre. Without reaching its spirit, to read a book is little more than to amuse the eye with printed type.
An adequate history of a great literature can be written only by collaboration. Professor Petit de Julleville, in the excellent Histoire de la Langue et de la Littérature Française, at present in process of publication, has his well-instructed specialist for each chapter. In this small volume I too, while constantly exercising my own judgment, have had my collaborators—the ablest and most learned students of French literature—who have written each a part of my book, while somehow it seems that I have written the whole. My collaborators are on my shelves. Without them I could not have accomplished my task; here I give them credit for their assistance. Some have written general histories of French literature; some have written histories of periods—the Middle Ages, the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth centuries; some have studied special literary fields or forms—the novel, the drama, tragedy, comedy, lyrical poetry, history, philosophy; many have written monographs on great authors; many have written short critical studies of books or groups of books. I have accepted from each a gift. But my assistants needed to be controlled; they brought me twenty thousand pages, and that was too much. Some were accurate in statement of fact, but lacked ideas; some had ideas, but disregarded accuracy of statement; some unjustly depreciated the seventeenth century, some the eighteenth. For my purposes their work had to be rewritten; and so it happens that this book is mine as well as theirs.
The sketch of mediæval literature follows the arrangement of matter in the two large volumes of M. Petit de Julleville and his fellow-labourers, to whom and to the writings of M. Gaston Paris I am on almost every page indebted. Many matters in dispute have here to be briefly stated in one way; there is no space for discussion. Provençal literature does not appear in this volume. It is omitted from the History of M. Petit de Julleville and from that of M. Lanson. In truth, except as an influence, it forms no part of literature in the French language.
The reader who desires guidance in bibliography will find it at the close of each chapter of the History edited by M. Petit de Julleville, less fully in the notes to M. Lanson's History, and an excellent table of critical and biographical studies is appended to each volume of M. Lintilhac's Histoire de la Littérature Française. M. Lintilhac, however, omits many important English and German titles—among others, if I am not mistaken, those of Birsch-Hirschfeld's Geschichte der Französichen Litteratur: die Zeit der Renaissance, of Lotheissen's important Geschichte der Französichen Litteratur im XVII. Jahrhundert, and of Professor Flint's learned Philosophy of History (1893).