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INTRODUCTION

THE selections contained in this the concluding volume of the present series, extend from the beginning of the century to our own day. We are tempted, in comparing these two periods, to be misled by the analogy of the rapid changes which the century has seen in other spheres, and to seek for a wide contrast between English prose as it was written at the beginning and as it is written at the close of the nineteenth century. But, as a fact, the analogy is not real: and it would be more true to say that no equal number of years has shown so few, rather than so many marked changes in prose style. In most of its essential features, English prose is the same now as it was when the eighteenth century closed : and we might read sentences, paragraphs, and even pages from many books written at the beginning and at the end of the period covered by this volume without finding any marked distinction which would help us to decide to which part of it they belong. But on the other hand, we may safely say that there is no equal period which presents anything like the same individual variety, or which has turned and twisted the models of the past into as great a multiplicity of shapes, according to the endless eccentricities either of fashion or of taste ; partly also, it is only fair to admit, in compliance with the exigencies of a boundless complexity of subject matter. It is just these two, apparently opposite characteristics, which make it so hard to pronounce a definite judgment upon the main tendencies of English prose in our day. It is comparatively easy to trace the progress of a marked and decisive change of taste or fashion, which moves forward by well-defined stages, compels obedience to its successive developments, and which presents itself finally VOL V

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