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EMBRACING THE GREAT EPOCHS OF ENGLISH LITERATURE
TO THE DEATH OF WALTER SCOTT, 1832
BY ABBY SAGE RICHARDSON
In literature we have present, and prepared to form us, the best which has
S the title of my book suggests, this is a history
of English literature told in familiar style. Its first and overruling purpose is to create a desire, on the part of those who read it, to know the best works of our best authors. I do not believe in anything said or written about English literature that shall serve as a substitute for literature itself, or that does not lead directly to the reading of the best books. For my own part, I would rather know thoroughly half-a-dozen English classics than all the works on literature ever written.
Although for several years I have been talking to classes, principally of young women, on the subjects this book includes, this is in no way a report of those talks, but has a unity and sequence which is not quite possible in detached lectures. I have endeavored to show the growth of English literature from its beginning down to the end of the first third of this century. From that time the great names that appear are the names of living men, or of men but lately dead, whose place in the archives of literature is not yet assigned. It is time only which tries the value of an author and sets him among his peers.
In a small volume like this, where I have made the attempt to combine brevity with a certain amount of
detail about the author spoken of, together with an extract from his works, it has been impossible to mention every great name in the annals of English literature. What I have tried to do has been to touch on the salient points in the growth of literature; to mention the names of those who have had any marked influence upon it; to show briefly the cause of this influence; and, where it was possible, to quote sufficient from the author to excite a desire to know more of him. To carry out this plan in small space required that much should be left unsaid which I should like to say, and that many names should be omitted which are worth more than a mere mention; it also required that I should keep strictly within the limits of pure literature, — poetry, essays, fiction, and leave the writings of historians, divines, and scientists out of my plan of work, except where they are associated with elegant literature.
As this is in no wise a cyclopedia of literature, I have not given biographical sketches of these writers, and have purposely omitted all facts about them except those facts of character or life which bear upon their work, sometimes adding incidents which would give interest or vividness to the story. I have always felt it unjust to literature to associate too closely the external life of an author with his productions, and I have tried to avoid that injustice. Handbooks of literature, especially those used in schools, have been too much like graveyards, where a series of stones record the life, death, and principal events relating to an author, ending with a few lines from his work as a sort of epitaph. I think this method has made the study of literature uninteresting. Therefore, if my treatment of the facts about a writer is desultory, and