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This book was undertaken in response to the desire, expressed in many quarters, for a large body of standard English literature in an accessible, compact form, to accompany and supplement the manuals of literary history in use. As the project gradually shaped itself in the editors' hands, it took on something like the following threefold purpose :
First, to include, as far as possible, those classics of our literature—the ballads, elegies, and odes, the L'Allegros and Deserted Villages—which afford the basis for an appreciation of the greatest English writers.
Second, to supplement these with a sufficient number of selections from every period of our literature to provide a perspective and make the volume fairly representative from a historical point of view.
Third, to go somewhat outside of the beaten track, though keeping still to standard literature, and make a liberal addition of selections, especially from the drama and prose, to enliven the collection and widen its human interest.
This comprehensive character is indicated by the title of the volume. A somewhat unusual feature is the inclusion of both poetry and prose. The two forms have not been indiscriminately mingled, but they have been deliberately set side by side in the belief that both will gain by their conjunction. It is scarcely to be denied that at the present time a volume made up wholly of verse gives the impression of a collection of enshrined “classics,” meant either to be admired from a distance or studied with tedious minuteness. On the other hand, a miscellaneous collection of unrelieved prose lacks attractiveness by seeming to lack emotional appeal. Putting them together will not only afford the relief of variety, but should lead to a better understanding of both by showing that the difference between them is often more formal than real—that poetry, with all its concern for form, is primarily the medium of the simplest truth and feeling, and that prose, though by preference pedestrian, may at times both soar and sing.
In making the selections, it was considered best to exclude the modern novel, a form of literature that scarcely lends itself to selection at all. With this exception,
pretty much the whole field has been covered, though it is not maintained that every important man or movement has been represented. The Restoration drama can,
for obvious reasons, have no place in these pages; nor should the omissions be Tregarded with surprise if a volume of confessedly rather elementary purpose fails to
include such men as Burton, Browne, Locke, and Newton, voyagers "on strange seas of thought, alone.” The endeavor was simply to secure the widest representation consistent with the intended service of the book and compatible with a due regard for both amount and proportion. Inconclusive fragments have been studiously avoided. Here and there, where a specimen of form only was desired of Surrey's blank verse, for example, or of Thomson's Spenserian manner—this principle has not been adhered to. But apart from such exceptional cases, even