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ENGLISH PROSE OF THE
RAYMOND MACDONALD ALDEN
Professor of English in Leland Stanford Junior University
This volume appears in continuation of the plan which was initiated with a collection of Readings in English Prose of the Eighteenth Century, and with a single exception is made in accordance with the same principles: that is, it undertakes to give a sufficient body of prose readings for the use of those engaged in the general study of English literature in the period in question. In the nineteenth century, however, the mass of material is so great that it has seemed best to abandon the effort to represent the minor prose writers, of interest less for intrinsic worth than for their relation to particular ideas and movements, and to confine the volume to those of major importance in pure literature, exclusive of fiction. While many of the names thus omitted (such as Southey and Leigh Hunt, for example, in the earlier period, and Borrow and Leslie Stephen in the later) are tantalizingly attractive, yet the thirteen chosen writers stand out so clearly from among their contemporaries that it happens that not a single additional name was recommended for admission by those critics who were kind enough to look over the editor's list. Besides these, space has been found — rather illogically, but on what appear to be imperative grounds of utility — for some representation of the great reviews of the early nineteenth century; for to study the age of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats without some acquaintance with the reviewers is out of the question, and their work is usually more inaccessible than anything else in this volume.
Complete compositions, other things being equal, have of course been preferred — or sections, chapters, and the like, having the same independent character. Where omissions have been made they are indicated scrupulously. Some of these omissions are matters of regret, the mere mechanics of the volume making it impossible to give full scope to the discursive progress of a Hazlitt, or the elaborate and leisurely built-up critical structures of Macaulay or Arnold. Others are believed to be a positive advantage: as where, for example, in the expository prose of Coleridge and De Quincey, the student is likely to lose himself discouragingly in the ramifications of the writers' method, whereas with the aid of some judicious selection and skipping he may be led to see the rich significance of a particular piece of thinking. Most of the selections which exemplify this have been chosen on the basis of the editor's experience in reading aloud from the works in question.
The form of the text has been generally normalized to modern usage, in respect to spelling, punctuation, and the like, except where individual practice is of real significance — as in the capitalization of some of the writings of Carlyle. As in the earlier volume, the editor's notes are restricted to two classes: facts which the reader should have in mind in beginning a selection, and interpretations necessary to the fairly rapid reading of the text.
Many different motives lead to the reading of literary classics, and will presumably animate those who may use this book. For some, the main facts about authors and their works will be uppermost in mind; for some, the qualities and technique of style, which will lead them to set most store by the great pieces of art-prose which the collection contains Lamb's “Dream Children,” Hazlitt's portrait of the Dissenter, De Quincey's vision of Our Ladies of Sorrow, Landor's last letter of Pericles, Carlyle's peroration to “Natural Supernaturalism,” Ruskin's account of the two cathedrals, Arnold's apostrophe to Oxford, Stevenson’s conclusion to“ Æs Triplex.” For some, again, the ideas are uppermost; and it is with this class, I may say frankly, that I have closest kinship, both as teacher and editor. More and more we are coming to realize that, if we are to justify the effort to make one generation well acquainted with the writings of another, it will not be on the ground that our predecessors said things well, — for, even
if we admit that we cannot say them so well, it is the language of our own time, after all, that speaks best for us, – but on the ground that they had something to say which is still significant. I have tried, therefore, to keep this in mind in making the selections for this volume. There is, of course, the mainly historical purpose also; but the two aims are not inconsistent. Coleridge's Biographia Literaria is very much of a document of his own time, and will seem more remote to present-day readers than most of the works here represented; but it is not difficult to show that his discussion of the relation of the language of poetry to that of common life is concerned with a problem which is acute at the present moment – one which our younger poets, like Mr. Masefield and many another, have been studying with much care. Lamb and Hazlitt wrote on the relation of the drama read to the drama acted, with no reference to our modern drama, but their ideas are pertinent and stimulating for current discussion; so also is the debate between Lamb and Macaulay, on the moral aspects of Restoration comedy, pertinent for dramatic judgments now. The conflict between classical traditionalism and the love of freedom, which Macaulay represents in his attack on the earlier critics, is still vital, whether one emphasizes the truth or the fallacies in his essay; so is Jeffrey's discussion of the ques. tion whether popular poetry is good poetry, and De Quincey's and Newman's distinction between pure literature and mere books, and Pater's definition of Romanticism, and Stevenson's of Romance. These are literary questions, but the same thing is true of others. There are Carlyle's and Ruskin's theories of labor, and Ruskin's of public architecture, and the views of Carlyle and Arnold respecting the vulgarities of democracy, and the notions of a liberal education held by Newman and Arnold on the one hand and by Huxley on the other: - it may sadden, but it should also stimulate, to discover that all these survive as live questions of the twentieth century. Nor will the more thoughtful student fail to be interested in Carlyle's account of his combat with doubt, in Newman's discus