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"It does not treat of minerals or fossils, of the virtues of plants, or the influence of planets; it does not meddle with forms of belief or systems of philosophy, nor launch into the world of spiritual existences; but it makes familiar with the world of men and women, records their actions, assigns their motives, exhibits their whims, characterises their pursuits in all their singular and endless variety, ridicules their absurdities, exposes their inconsistencies, ‘holds the mirror up to nature, and shows the very age and body of the time, its form and pressure;' takes minutes of our dress, our looks, words, thoughts, and actions; shows us what we are, and what we are not; plays the whole game of human life over before us. It is the best and most natural course of study.

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It inquires what human life is and has been, to show what it ought to be."

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SOME of the most valuable and permanent contributions made from time to time to British literature have been in the form of the Essay. These contributions form both delightful and profitable reading when they unite conciseness of expression with fulness of thought. An attempt has been made in the present volume, by judicious selection, to give a fair view of the wealth and broad expanse of the writings of the British Essayists, beginning with Lord Bacon's "Essays, Civil and Moral," and ending with the brilliant periodical contributions of Macaulay and Carlyle, and the eloquent prose of John Ruskin. With such a wide field to traverse, it has been the aim of the Editor to give, as far as possible, the representative essays of each writer. The volume may be termed an endeavour to furnish the reader with what is permanently valuable in the best productions of our representative Essayists.

Specimens of many different styles of thinking and expression will here be found, from the didactic style of Bacon, Addison, Johnson, or Foster, to the playful humour of Lamb, the lucid and correct journalistic prose of Jeffrey or Hugh Miller, the definite and precise portraiture of Macaulay, the strength and originality of Carlyle, and the eloquent descriptive writing of John Ruskin. Ranging from "grave to gay, from lively to severe," the student of this branch of literature may here trace the progress of style, change of manners, and tone of thought.

Collections and selections from the wide field of British poetry are common enough, and may be seen everywhere; but the Editor is not aware that the same attempt has been previously made to give in such a cheap and handy form, and within the compass of one volume, a selection from those mines of crystallised thought, delicate fancy, and playful humour, which exist in such rich abundance in the English Essay. While scarcely possible to give specimens from every author who has been distinguished as an Essayist, especially in more recent


times, yet it is hoped that all the more important names have been included. For the others not included, want of space, and the fact of their works still remaining copyright, must stand as a sufficient reason. Some names, on the other hand, will be found included, not commonly recognised as Essayists in the sense of contributors to periodical literature, or otherwise, such as Milton, Sir Thomas Browne, John Locke, Ruskin, and others. On examination, however, it will be found those portions of their writings now given, harmonise in style of treatment and rounded completeness, with our idea of what an Essay should be. With the exception of the above authors, whose writings are qucted from their larger works, unless specially mentioned, the essays are given in their complete and original form, as left by the respective authors.

Short biographies of the Essayists, compiled from various sources, have been arranged at the end of the volume in alphabetical order. The Introduction is given from a paper on "Essayists Old and New," by the late Alexander Smith. The judgment of the reader may not harmonise with that of the writer on every point, but his main conclusions will be found correct. Regarding the choice of the vignette, Holland House, it may be sufficient to say, in the words of a recent writer, that, "from 1799 till 1840, there was hardly in England a distinguished man in politics, science, or literature, who had not been a guest at Holland House." In conclusion, the warmest thanks are here accorded to those authors and publishers who have so readily given permission to use copyright matter. In particular might be mentioned: Mr Thomas Carlyle, Mr John Ruskin, and Mr Thomas Aird; Messrs Chapman and Hall, Messrs Daldy, Isbister, & Co., Messrs William Blackwood and Sons, Messrs A. & C. Black, etc.

Since the present volume was put to press, Messrs G. P. Putnam's Sons, the American publishers, have issued the first volume of an intended series of "Select British Essayists," beginning with Addison and Steele. It may only be right to state that the present selection was planned, and in part executed, before their announcement was made public.

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