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AUTHOR'S INTRODUCTION TO THIS TRANSLATION.
The Author of this elegant and faithful translation has thought that I ought to indicate to the reader what plan I kept before me in writing the history of English Literature. Briefly stated, it was
A nation lives twenty, thirty centuries and longer, and a man lives but sixty or seventy years. Nevertheless, a nation has a good many points in which it is like a man. For, in a career so long and almost interminable, a nation has its own character, both mental and moral, which manifests itself at the beginning, and develops from epoch to epoch, preserving the same fundamental qualities from its origin to its decline. This is a matter of experience, and whoever has followed the history of a peoplefor instance, of the Greeks from Homer to the Byzantine Cæsars, the Germans from the Nibelungen Lied to Goethe, the French from the first Chansons de Geste and the earliest fabliaux, down to Beranger and Alfred de Musset, cannot help recognizing in the life of a nation a continuity as strict as in the life of an individual.
Now suppose that in the case of one of the half-dozen great men who have played the leading parts on the world's stage—Alexander, Napoleon, Newton, Dante,-suppose that by some extraordinary piece of good fortune we happened to have a quantity of authentic portraits, uninjured and freshwater-colors, drawings, sketches, full-length portraits, representing him at all times of life, in his various costumes, expressions, and attitudes, with all his surroundings, especially in his greatest deeds, and in the most trying crises that marked the development of his character.
Well, that is just the kind of memoranda which we possess AUTHOR'S INTRODUCTION TO THIS TRANSLATION.
to-day to enable us to know the great being that we call a nation, especially when the nation has a full and original literature. For most essential purposes, each of its literary productions is a picture in which we contemplate the nation itself. And this picture is really more precious than a physical portrait, for it is a moral one. The poem of Beowulf and the Canterbury Tales, the dramatic works of the Renaissance and the Reformation, the various lines of authors in prose and verse who have followed each other, from Shakespeare and Bacon down to Tennyson, Dickens, and Carlyle, place before us all the literary forms and poetical images, all the variations of thought, sentiment, and expression, in which the soul of the English nation has found delight. There we may follow the change in tastes, and the persistency in instincts; there we see the national character acted upon by circumstances, and moulded in directions determined partly by its own nature and partly by tradition; but through all, one is conscious of a persistent individuality—the adult merely fulfills the promise of the youth and the child; the living figure of to-day still preserves the characteristic features of the earliest portrait. From all these portraits I have undertaken to pick out the most lifelike and the most faithful, to arrange them according to their dates and degrees of importance, to put them in appropriate groups and to explain them, commenting upon them with admiration and sympathy, but not without freedom and candor; for though one ought to feel affection for his theme, he should never flatter anybody. Possibly it would be better to leave my task to those who are at home in England; they are apt to say that they know our personage better because they are of his family. True, but in living with a person one is not specially apt to be aware of his peculiarities. On the contrary, a stranger has one advantage-custom does not blunt his perceptions; he is unconsciously struck by the principal characteristics, and treats the subject with reference to them. This, then, is my whole excuse; I offer it to the reader with some special confidence, because, when I pass in review my own ideas about France, I find many which have been given me by strangers, and by none more than the English.
H. A. TAINE. PARIS, October, 1871.
The historian might place himself for a certain time, during several centuries or
amongst a certain people, in the midst of the spirit of humanity. He might study, describe, relate all the events, the changes, the revolutions which took place in the inner-man; and when he had reached the end, he would possess a history of the civilisation of the nation and the period he selected. Guizot, Civilisation in Europe, p. 25.
TISTORY has been revolutionised, within a hundred years in
| Germany, within sixty years in France, and that by the study of their literatures.
It was perceived that a work of literature is not a mere play of imagination, a solitary caprice of a heated brain, but a transcript of contemporary manners, a type of a certain kind of mind. It was concluded that one might retrace, from the monuments of literature, the style of man's feelings and thoughts for centuries back. The attempt was made, and it succeeded.
Pondering on these modes of feeling and thought, men decided that in them were embalmed facts of the highest kind. They saw that these facts bore reference to the most important occurrences, that they explained and were explained by them, that it was necessary thenceforth to give them a rank, and a most important rank, in history. This rank they have received, and from that moment history has undergone a complete change: in its subject-matter, its system, its machinery, the appreciation of laws and of causes. It is this change, as it has happened and must still happen, that we shall here endeavour to exhibit.
I. What is your first remark on turning over the great, stiff leaves of a folio, the yellow sheets of a manuscript,-a poem, a code of laws, a declaration of faith? This, you say, was not created alone. It is but a mould, like a fossil shell, an imprint, like one of those shapes embossed in stone by an animal which lived and perished. Under the shell there was an animal, and behind the document there was a man. Why do you study the shell, except to represent to yourself the animal? So do you study the document only in order to know the man. The