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In this shorter book I have not hesitated to make what use I could of my earlier Introduction to English Literature, but I have found that comparatively little of it was suited to my present purpose. The general plan, and chief chronological divisions have been retained, but apart from this the present book is largely new, written in a simple style and designed to meet a different need. There is less literary criticism and relatively more biography, while many authors and books mentioned in the larger work are here barely alluded to or passed over altogether. As far as possible the mere enumeration of authors and titles has been avoided, and the student has been led to concentrate his attention upon a comparatively small number of authors of the first importance.
Like its predecessor this book aims to treat the history of English literature in its broad relations to the social, religious, and political history of England, and of Europe; to make the student realize that literature is a vital and significant part of a nation's history, and one of the most intimate revelations of the national life and aspiration. It tries to show him that the literary history of England is not the record of a meaningless and fortuitous succession of men and events, but rather a continuous and fascinating story, in which each age is largely the product of those that have gone before it, and in which the present is in a real and apparent way the daughter of the past.
A book of this kind should be clear, brief, and accurate, but even this is not enough. It should aim above all to
make the great books a part of the student's mental life, and the great authors living men in the substantial world of his imagination. Much will have been accomplished if such strong, complex, or loveable personalities as Johnson or Bunyan, Swift or Defoe, Goldsmith, Shelley, or Browning, have been made as real and definite as the personages of some favorite story, and if the student has been given a desire to know more of them and of their works. It is not an easy thing to do this, especially within such narrow limits, and the scanty suggestions of the book need to be supplemented by the skill and sympathy of the teacher, but I can honestly say that the great English writers are very real and human to me, and that I have tried to make them so to others.
I have written here as if I were alone responsible for the book, but this is very far from being the case. It is a pleasure, as well as an act of bare justice, to acknowledge my great indebtedness to my friend Mr. Percy V. D. Shelly, who has worked side by side with me. Indeed we have been so closely and so happily associated, so entirely in sympathy in working for a common end, that we have taken little heed of nice distinctions of mine or thine. If there were any object in doing so, it would not be easy to estimate exactly our respective contributions, but I may say truly that my colleague has faithfully followed, from first to last, the Wordsworthian injunction,
Give all thou can’s't, high Heaven rejects the lore
H. S. P. CHESTNUT Hill, Pa.
September 6, 1910.