AN INTRODUCTION TO THE CHIEF WRITERS OF ENGLAND AND AMERICA, TO THE BOOKS THEY WROTE, AND TO THE TIMES IN WHICH THEY LIVED
BY WILLIAM J. LONG (1866-1952)
This is the wey to al good aventure.—Chaucer
The last thing we find in making a book is to know what to put first.—Pascal
When an author has finished his history, after months or years of happy work, there comes a dismal hour when he must explain its purpose and apologize for its shortcomings.
The explanation in this case is very simple and goes back to a personal experience. When the author first studied the history of our literature there was put into his hands as a textbook a most dreary catalogue of dead authors, dead masterpieces, dead criticisms, dead ages; and a boy who knew chiefly that he was alive was supposed to become interested in this literary sepulchre or else have it said that there was something hopeless about him. Later he learned that the great writers of England and America were concerned with life alone, as the most familiar, the most mysterious, the most fascinating thing in the world, and that the only valuable or interesting feature of any work of literature is its vitality.
To introduce these writers not as dead worthies but as companionable men and women, and to present their living subject as a living thing, winsome as a smile on a human face,--such was the author’s purpose in writing this book.
The apology is harder to frame, as anyone knows who has attempted to gather the writers of a thousand years into a single volume that shall have the three virtues of brevity, readableness and accuracy. That this record is brief in view of the immensity of the subject is plainly apparent. That it may prove pleasantly readable is a hope inspired chiefly by the fact that it was a pleasure to write it, and that pleasure is contagious. As for accuracy, every historian who fears God or regards man strives hard enough for that virtue; but after all his striving, remembering the difficulty of criticism and the perversity of names and dates that tend to error as the sparks fly upward, he must still trust heaven and send forth his work with something of Chaucer’s feeling when he wrote:
O littel bookë, thou art so unconning,
How darst thou put thy-self in prees for drede?
Which may mean, to one who appreciates Chaucer’s wisdom and humor, that having written a little book in what seemed to him an unskilled or “unconning” way, he hesitated to give it to the world for dread of the “prees” or crowd of critics who, even in that early day, were wont to look upon each new book as a camel that must be put through the needle’s eye of their tender mercies.
In the selection and arrangement of his material the author has aimed to make a usable book that may appeal to pupils and teachers alike. Because history and literature are closely related (one being the record of man’s deed, the other of his thought and feeling) there is a brief historical introduction to every literary period. There is also a review of the general literary tendencies of each age, of the fashions, humors and ideals that influenced writers in forming their style or selecting their subject. Then there is a biography of every important author, written not to offer another subject for hero-worship but to present the man exactly as he was; a review of his chief works, which is intended chiefly as a guide to the best reading; and a critical estimate or appreciation of his writings based partly upon first-hand impressions, partly upon the assumption that an author must deal honestly with life as he finds it and that the business of criticism is, as Emerson said, “not to legislate but to raise the dead.” This detailed study of the greater writers of a period is followed by an examination of some of the minor writers and their memorable works. Finally, each chapter concludes with a concise summary of the period under consideration, a list of selections for reading and a bibliography of works that will be found most useful in acquiring a larger knowledge of the subject.
In its general plan this little volume is modeled on the author’s more advanced English Literature and American Literature; but the material, the viewpoint, the presentation of individual writers,--all the details of the work are entirely new. Such a book is like a second journey through ample and beautiful regions filled with historic associations, a journey that one undertakes with new companions, with renewed pleasure and, it is to be hoped, with increased wisdom. It is hardly necessary to add that our subject has still its unvoiced charms, that it cannot be exhausted or even adequately presented in any number of histories. For literature deals with life; and life, with its endlessly surprising variety in unity, has happily some suggestion of infinity.
WILLIAM J. LONG
What is Literature? The Tree and the Book. Books of Knowledge and Books of Power. The Art of Literature. A Definition and Some Objections.
Tributaries of Early Literature. The Anglo-Saxon or Old-English Period. Specimens of the Language. The Epic of Beowulf. Anglo-Saxon Songs. Types of Earliest Poetry. Christian Literature of the Anglo-Saxon Period. The Northumbrian School. Bede. Cædmon. Cynewulf. The West-Saxon School. Alfred the Great. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Anglo-Norman or Early Middle-English Period. Specimens of the Language. The Norman Conquest. Typical Norman Literature. Geoffrey of Monmouth. First Appearance of the Legends of Arthur. Types of Middle-English Literature. Metrical Romances. Some Old Songs. Summary of the Period. Selections for Reading. Bibliography.
Specimens of the Language. History of the Period. Geoffrey Chaucer. Contemporaries and Successors of Chaucer. Langland and his Piers Plowman. Malory and his Morte d’ Arthur. Caxton and the First Printing Press. The King’s English as the Language of England. Popular Ballads. Summary of the Period. Selections for Reading. Bibliography.
Historical Background. Literary Characteristics of the Period. Foreign Influence. Outburst of Lyric Poetry. Lyrics of Love. Music and Poetry. Edmund Spenser. The Rise of the Drama. The Religious Drama. Miracle Plays, Moralities and Interludes. The Secular Drama. Pageants and Masques. Popular Comedies. Classical and English Drama. Predecessors of Shakespeare. Marlowe. Shakespeare. Elizabethan Dramatists after Shakespeare. Ben Jonson. The Prose Writers. The Fashion of Euphuism. The Authorized Version of the Scriptures. Francis Bacon. Summary of the Period. Selections for Reading. Bibliography.
Historical Outline. Three Typical Writers. Milton. Bunyan. Dryden. Puritan and Cavalier Poets. George Herbert. Butler’s Hudibras. The Prose Writers. Thomas Browne. Isaac Walton. Summary of the Period. Selections for Reading. Bibliography.
History of the Period. Eighteenth-Century Classicism. The Meaning of Classicism in Literature. Alexander Pope. Swift. Addison. Steele. Johnson. Boswell. Burke. Historical Writing in the Eighteenth Century. Gibbon.
The Revival of Romantic Poetry. Collins and Gray. Goldsmith. Burns. Minor Poets of Romanticism. Cowper. Macpherson and the Ossian Poems. Chatterton. Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. William Blake.
The Early English Novel. The Old Romance and the New Novel. Defoe. Richardson. Fielding. Influence of the Early Novelists. Summary of the Period. Selections for Reading. Bibliography.
Historical Outline. The French Revolution and English Literature.
Wordsworth. Coleridge. Southey. The Revolutionary Poets. Byron and Shelley. Keats. The Minor Poets. Campbell, Moore, Keble, Hood, Felicia Hemans, Leigh Hunt and Thomas Beddoes. The Fiction Writers. Walter Scott. Jane Austen. The Critics and Essayists. Charles Lamb. De Quincey. Summary of the Period.
Selections for Reading. Bibliography.
Historical Outline. The Victorian Poets. Tennyson. Browning. Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Matthew Arnold. The Pre-Raphaelites. Rossetti. Morris. Swinburne. Minor Poets and Songs in Many Keys.
The Greater Victorian Novelists. Dickens. Thackeray. George Eliot. Other Writers of Notable Novels. The Brontë Sisters. Mrs. Gaskell. Charles Reade. Anthony Trollope. Blackmore. Kingsley. Later Victorian Novelists. Meredith.
Victorian Essayists and Historians. Typical Writers. Macaulay. Carlyle. Ruskin. Variety of Victorian Literature. Summary of the Period. Selections for Reading. Bibliography.
Unique Quality of Early American Literature. Two Views of the Pioneers. The Colonial Period. Annalists and Historians. Bradford and Byrd. Puritan and Cavalier Influences. Colonial Poetry. Wiggles-worth. Anne Bradstreet. Godfrey. Nature and Human Nature in Colonial Records. The Indian in Literature. Religious Writers. Cotton Mather and Edwards.
The Revolutionary Period. Party Literature. Benjamin Franklin.
Revolutionary Poetry. The Hartford Wits. Trumbull’s M’Fingal. Freneau. Orators and Statesmen of the Revolution. Citizen Literature. James Otis and Patrick Henry. Hamilton and Jefferson. Miscellaneous Writers. Thomas Paine. Crèvecoeur. Woolman. Beginning of American Fiction. Charles Brockden Brown. Summary of the Period. Selections for Reading. Bibliography.
Historical Background. Literary Environment. The National Spirit in Prose and Verse. The Knickerbocker School. Halleck, Drake, Willis and Paulding. Southern Writers. Simms, Kennedy, Wilde and Wirt. Various New England Writers. First Literature of the West. Major Writers of the Period. Irving. Bryant. Cooper. Poe. Summary of the Period. Selections for Reading. Bibliography.
Political History. Social and Intellectual Changes. Brook Farm and Other Reform Societies. The Transcendental Movement. Literary Characteristics of the Period. The Elder Poets. Longfellow. Whittier. Lowell. Holmes, Lanier. Whitman. The Greater Prose Writers. Emerson. Hawthorne. Some Minor Poets. Timrod, Hayne, Ryan, Stoddard and Bayard Taylor. Secondary Writers of Fiction. Mrs. Stowe, Dana, Herman Melville, Cooke, Eggleston and Winthrop. Juvenile Literature. Louisa M. Alcott. Trowbridge. Miscellaneous Prose. Thoreau. The Historians. Motley, Prescott and Parkman. Summary of the Period. Selections for Reading. Bibliography.
The New Spirit of Nationality. Contemporary History. The Short Story and its Development. Bret Harte. The Local-Color Story and Some Typical Writers. The Novel since 1876. Realism in Recent Fiction. Howells. Mark Twain. Various Types of Realism. Dialect Stories. Joel Chandler Harris. Recent Romances. Historical Novels. Poetry since 1876. Stedman and Aldrich. The New Spirit in Poetry. Joaquin Miller. Dialect Poems. The Poetry of Common Life. Carleton and Riley. Other Typical Poets. Miscellaneous Prose. The Nature Writers. History and Biography. John Fiske. Literary History and Reminiscence. Bibliography.
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