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It has been my object to compress into this book the minimum of what every young person should know of the literature of our own country and England, even if his education is strictly scientific. I believe that
specializing in any one period is more likely to prove fruitful and of benefit to the student if preceded by a general review of the development of thought and expression in the English-speaking peoples.
The book is intended as a text-book for a course of three hours a week for a school year of thirty-three weeks. As a rule I have aimed at keeping the biographical matter and the critical matter in separate paragraphs, in order that the teacher may use his discretion in requiring biographical matter to be memorized (for there must be a certain amount of drudgery insisted on in the study of literature) and critical matter merely to be read. I have, however, endeavored to keep in view the needs and limitations of a text-book, and have omitted many names that would find a place in a manual or pocket encyclopedia. American literature is treated on a fuller plan than is English literature, the object being to make one book and one course suffice for an introduction to both subjects.
Literature, especially poetry, may be appreciated simply as art, and without any reference to the human society in
which it is produced. But in that case much of its significance and interest is lost, for everything that is written is addressed to contemporaries, and the author himself, if not entirely the product of social conditions, is at least molded by them. The historic method of study is the true one, unless in a blind study of surroundings the fact that literary productions are primarily creations of the art impulse is entirely lost sight of, in which case, indeed, the study of literature might be reduced to barren classifications of facts. Therefore, although this book is strictly elementary, I have referred briefly in each chapter to events bearing on social development, to changes in religious and political theory, and even to advances in the industrial arts, which underlie all social progress and are one of the chief causes of political amelioration.
It has been rather difficult to reconcile compression and due proportion with personal preference for certain authors or certain subjects, and it is quite possible that some of the omissions are not those that others would have made. It was necessary to draw the line somewhere and sometimes arbitrarily.
The examples have been chosen as a rule from poems which are generally familiar, and as far as possible from those which have an illustrative character.
The selections from the poems of Emerson, Holmes, Whittier, and Longfellow are used by permission of and by special arrangement with Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin and Co., publishers of the works of the authors named, to whom my acknowledgments are due.
CHARLES F. JOHNSON.
February 14, 1900.