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SOME explanation is needed to account for the appearance of this book, in a period which sets so much value on specialised study.
The writer would justify it by the view, first, that in English literature there are certain authors who may be classed as obligatory — concerning whom total ignorance is a defect at least to be concealed; and secondly, that the ordinary reader has neither the time nor inclination to study all these authors at first hand. An attempt has therefore been made to put together a survey of the literature which should concern itself only with such authors as can be deemed in this manner essential; with the hope that it might usefully supplement the necessarily partial knowledge possessed by young or busy people, and perhaps serve as a guide to those who wish to extend their reading.
The main criterion which has regulated the selection of names is public fame. Without wishing to assert that Crabbe is a better poet than Campion, or Gray than Webster, it may be stated emphatically that no educated man in the Englishspeaking world can afford to profess entire ignor
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ance of the former in each pair, and therefore to them, and not to the latter, space is devoted. Beyond this, has been the thought of contemporary taste. No book has been dwelt on at length which the writer would not recommend as agreeable reading to any lover of literature. If any concession has been made to public fame in this respect, it has been in the case of authors such as Thomson, who are specially significant in the development of the literature.
For in such a survey as this the writer has to conduct the reader through what is in one aspect a continuous history of events that cannot be viewed in isolation: and, for example, the extent of Pope's success is ill understood unless we realise that at the same epoch Thomson achieved a sudden popularity. It is not too much to say that an educated man who knows what manner of poetry Thomson wrote, and — not less important in what
age he wrote it, may well be excused for not knowing more. This kind of information it is the book's first aim to provide; while it refuses steadfastly to tell the reader anything at all about such excellent but unessential persons as Akenside or Rogers.
One may, however, deprecate the inference that the writer recommends the study of a hand-book in preference to that of the authors themselves. Whatever is written in these pages by way of criticism or biographical narrative is designed to awaken interest, and to send the reader to those