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The idea and plan of the present volume originated ten years ago when Professor Bronson, Professor Dodge, and I were engaged in giving an introductory course in English literature to a class of one hundred and forty freshmen and sophomores in Brown University. We found that we secured the best results by having the students read as widely as their time permitted and then discussing freely with them such points as seemed vital to the interest or the significance of the literature read. We proceeded on the theory that literary productions are vital, organic wholes, and that they must be treated as such to produce the effects intended by their authors. Special beauties of detail were noted and enjoyed, but were subordinated to the main meaning and beauty unless, indeed, as sometimes occurred, the significance of the piece we were reading lay in the beauty of its details, in the nature of its ornamentation, rather than in its meaning or form as a whole. Questions of structure and relation of parts were discussed, but with a view primarily to the main theme. Lectures on authors were given, but the greater part of each lecture was devoted to trying to show what the author meant by his work, what he wished to say, what was significant or interesting in his special way of saying it, and why it was or was not of permanent value. Dates and facts and groups of names were given and required to be learned, but not without an attempt to express their significance in such terms of human experience as had actuality for the students themselves.
That the interest and intelligent coöperation of every member of the class were gained by this method, I will not pretend; but I can testify that I have never seen better results from any class or a larger proportion of interested and intelligent listeners in any audience; and I have good reason to know that this method awakened a love of literature and the habit of reading in many members of the course. Experience with this class and with many classes before and since convinces me that we teachers are inclined to underestimate the capacity of pupils for grasping large ideas and their susceptibility to the beautiful thoughts and forms in which we ourselves have found delight.
For such work as was done in the course of which I speak, it is necessary to have a much larger range of reading matter than is usually given in any single volume of selections. We found no volume that met our needs, and were obliged to ask the class to purchase numerous cheap prints of single pieces. But the expense even of these amounted to more than we could reasonably impose upon the students. I then decided to collect into a single volume all the pieces of nondramatic poetry that any teacher would likely care to have at hand from which to make his own selections. The publishers readily agreed to aid me in bringing the price of the volume within the reach
of every student. Circumstances prevented me from beginning the book for several years, but five years ago I began it and have continued to work upon it whenever it was possible to find time and strength for it. Two years of illness sadly interrupted the work, which has, indeed, been much more difficult than I expected. It is now completed, and I hope it will be of service to teachers who believe, with me, that the love of reading and the habit of it are best awakened by treating pieces of literature as living, organic wholes and by subordinating all other considerations to this during the student's first introduction to the study of literature. It may also be useful to that large group of teachers who believe, as I do, that however small may be the number of poems that time permits one to read with his class, they should be chosen by the teacher himself with special reference to the taste and mental development of the pupils he actually has to deal with in each class.
In general the poems in this volume are given without introductory remarks or annotations. Such information can best be supplied by the teacher in the form and amount suggested by his knowledge of his pupils. In regard to most of the authors and poems presented, the most necessary information is to be found in any of the good elementary histories of English literature, and it is presumed that one of them will be used in connection with the course. In certain special cases I have supplied in the Introduction brief remarks intended to supplement the text-book.
Explanations of difficulties of thought or allusion I have avoided altogether. In such reading they are neither welcome nor helpful to a pupil until he feels the need of them, and then they can best be supplied by the teacher.
The earlier poems are provided with notes giving the meanings of unfamiliar words. It is believed that these notes and an ordinary dictionary will enable any student to read intelligently any of these poems. It will be observed that the modern equivalents of prepositions have not usually been given, and that rude English will often result from substituting the words in the notes for those in the text and making no further change. But it is only thus that the student can learn to receive the ancient thought in the ancient forms. Except in vocabulary Middle English is really not very difficult to any intelligent Englishman, and it is hoped that this book may help to remove the prevalent ignorance and fear of it. A little ingenuity and intelligent guessing at the identity of words disguised by their spelling will soon repay the student richly. Authors and poems which have hitherto been mere names to burden the student's memory may easily acquire meaning and interest by reading or even skimming these early poems.
Two principles have determined the choice of authors and poems: none has been omitted that seemed of real importance for the main features of the history of English literature; to these none has been added that had not a clear title to intrinsic beauty and value. It has of course been impossible to include all the poems of this character that exist in English literature, but it is hoped that no teacher will miss any old favorite whose place is not filled by a poem equally deserving of his favor.
Dramatic selections have been excluded because every play that deserves to be read should be read as a whole, and no single volume could contain all the good ones.
The selection from Ford's The Lover's Melancholy (p. 163) does not in reality violate this principle of exclusion, for the passage chosen is in no sense dramatic. It is a bit of pure narration, slightly helped in its movement by the interrupting questions, but not dependent upon them. It is highly characteristic of Ford, and under the circumstances there seemed no more impropriety in including it than in including a song from a play. From some of the longer narrative and reflective poems only extracts are given. An effort has been made to choose extracts characteristic in themselves and, as far as possible, self-explanatory. Usually omissions are indicated by stars, but in a few instances these have been left out where the line numbering makes clear the nature and amount of the omission. Some teachers will be disappointed to find that the familiar Knight's Tale is not given among the selections from Chaucer. The authority of Milton, as well as its greater brevity, may be pleaded in justification for making the unfinished Squire's Tale the representative of the Canterbury Tales.
It is hoped that both teachers and students will approve the inclusion of specimens of the work of some of the living poets who belong to the age of Tennyson. Certainly George Meredith and Swinburne could not have been excluded without serious loss.
All chronological divisions of literature are in some respects unsatisfactory. The division made in this book of the Renaissance in England into the Beginning of the Renaissance, the Renaissance, and the End of the Renaissance is perhaps even more unsatisfactory than usual. The authors are arranged in the order of birth, but unfortunately they neglected to mature and to die at any standard uniform rate or to be equally quick and sensitive in responding to new ideas and new influences in poetical style. Thus it will be found that even before Wyatt and Surrey some writers showed traces, faint indeed but real, of the intellectual awakening that we call the Renaissance. And within the period itself it seems absurd — and from the point of view of style and ideas it is absurd to find Giles Fletcher the Elder in the division called the Beginning of the Renaissance and William Warner in the Renaissance itself, as if the latter belonged to a more advanced stage of development than the former. Of course the explanation is that the work of Edmund Spenser is generally regarded as the first perfect flower of the epoch, and Fletcher, who happened to be born earlier, naturally finds place in the earlier period, though he outlived Spenser and shows in some of his work the fully developed qualities of the period of Spenser; while, on the other hand, Warner, though born later, seems to have been insensitive to the new ideas and the new style and belongs artistically to the previous generation of crude and antiquated workmanship.
In printing the texts the best accessible editions have been used and great pains have been exercised to avoid errors of every kind, but entire freedom from errors is too much to expect. I shall be grateful for any aid which will enable me to correct such as occur. The spelling of the earlier texts has been scrupulously reproduced with only such modifications as are accepted and used by good editors. In the single case of The Ormulum the ancient symbols for th and palatal g have been used. In it this procedure seemed necessary, as the main value of the work lies in the spelling. It would be inexcusable pedantry to preserve these old forms in other poems in such a book as this.
For aid in making the book I have to thank several friends. My cousin, Louise Manly, began making the selections with me and did a very large amount of work. These selections were revised by me and many were rejected for lack of space, while others were replaced by selections which seemed to me, for one reason or another, better suited to the purposes of the book; but my debt to her is very great, both because her selections were made with taste and judgment and because without her aid I should probably not yet have begun to carry out my plan. To Dr. Hardin Craig, Mr. A. E. Hill, and Miss Elizabeth Calhoun I am indebted for aid in verifying readings while the book was going through the press. To my sister, Annie Manly, I owe the greatest debt for aid. in copying and for reading with me every revise of the proofs of the whole book.
J. M. M.
LAKE ZURICH, ILLINOIS