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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
leaves unsaid what the cyclopædias say, it is to be understood as part of my method.
The style I have used may be regarded as sometimes too familiar for the subject. But I hope my book may be read largely by young people; I hope it may be read aloud in classes devoted to the study of literature, and I have therefore used a colloquial tone, hoping by this means more easily to gain the interest and the ear of the reader.
I have used the words "our literature, our English authors," all through the book with intention. Writing as I do for American readers, for the young people of our country, I have endeavored to impress on them a pride in the works written in their language; I want them to feel that they have as much share and as much cause for pride in the glorious names of Shakespeare and Milton as if their grandfathers had not crossed the ocean to settle in Massachusetts or Virginia. English literature to the year 1800 is as much our literature as it is that of any girl or boy born in London or in Yorkshire. Let us lay hold of and claim this grand inheritance.
A. S. R.