Reference > Cambridge History > From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance > Preface

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in Eighteen Volumes (1907–21).
Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

Preface.


IN the preliminary statement of the aims and objects of this History, communicated to those who were invited to become contributors to it, the editors emphasised the following purposes of their undertaking.
  1. A connected account was to be given of the successive movements of English literature, both main and subsidiary; and this was intended to imply an adequate treatment of secondary writers, instead of their being overshadowed by a few great names.
  2. Note was to be taken of the influence of foreign literatures upon English and (though in a less degree) of that of English upon foreign literatures.
  3. Each chapter of the work was to be furnished with a sufficient bibliography.
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  Very few words seem needed here, in addition to the above by way of preface to the first volume of the History; this volume and its successors must show how far editors and contributors have been able to carry out in practice the principles by which they have been guided. It may, however, be expedient, while directing attention to a few details in the general plan of the work, to dwell rather more fully on one or two of the ideas which will be kept in view throughout its course.   2
  In an enquiry embracing the history of motives, causes, and ends, it is often far less important to dwell on “leading” personalities and on the main tendencies of literary production, than to consider subsidiary movements and writers below the highest rank, and to trace, in apparently arid periods, processes which were often carried on, as it were, underground, or seemed to be such as could safely be ignored. It cannot be too often urged that there are few, if any, isolated phenomena; the voices may be voices crying in the wilderness, but they belong to those who prepare the way. While, therefore, anxious that not less than justice shall be dealt out to the works of betterknown writers, the editors have tried so to plan these volumes that something more than the mere justice with which works designed on a smaller scale have had to content themselves may be given to less known writers and to so-called fugitive literature.   3
  In the interest both of the general reader and of the student, it has been decided to insert footnotes below the text, where references seem required. These have been kept as brief as possible, in order that they may not distract attention. Further notes are, in special cases, added in the appendix and bibliographies at the end of the volume. The names of a few writers not dealt with in the text will be found in the bibliographies; but these names have not, it is hoped, been forgotten in the index. And the birth and death dates of most of the English writers mentioned in the text will be found in the index, rather than in the body of the work.   4
  An occasional attempt has been made to give the student some assistance by means of critical hints in the bibliographies, and to point out where he may best obtain fuller information of a more special nature than can possibly be given within the limits of a general history. To attempt an exhaustive treatment of any one writer, however eminent or however insignificant, to supply analyses of well-known books which are, or should be, on the same shelves as those which may hold these volumes, or to devote much space to the repetition of biographical facts—all this has seemed to lie outside the scope of the present work.   5
  While it is desired to preserve a certain unity in the contents of each volume—an easier task, probably, in the case of those dealing with later than of those treating of earlier times—yet the editors have no belief in “hard and fast” limits as encompassing any epoch, and their wish is that this History should unfold itself, unfettered by any preconceived notions of artificial eras or controlling dates. They venture, therefore, to remind their critics, to whom they confidently look for an indication of mistakes, that some of the subjects which may seem to have been omitted may prove to have been deliberately reserved for later treatment. To force an account of literary, educational, or scientific movements into chronological shackles, and make it keep step year by year with the progress of external events, or to present it as an orderly development when its edges are, in truth, woefully ragged, is not always either possible or desirable. From time to time, buried treasure comes to light; things seemingly of a day suddenly reveal the strength that is in them and become things for all time; and the way then lies open for a profitable retrospect. Thus, the editors have thought it simpler to defer an enquiry into the first glimmerings of the English drama and an account of the miracle plays until towards the close of the second volume, and to deal, on broad lines, with the progress of the English language, as the vehicle of English literature, with changes in English prosody and with the work of universities and scholarship, towards the end of successive periods, rather than piecemeal at successive stages of each.   6
  With regard to future volumes—since the history of a nation’s literature cannot be divorced from some consideration of its political, religious, and social life, including its manners as well as its phases of sentiment and fashion, its trivial thoughts no less than its serious moments—the editors have thought it well to make some provision for treating certain subjects more or less closely allied to literature pure or proper. Such are the literature of science and philosophy; and that of politics and economics; parliamentary eloquence; the work of schools and universities and libraries; scholarship; the pamphlet literature of religious and political controversy; the newspaper and the magazine; the labours of the press and the services of booksellers; homely books dealing with precept and manners and social life; domestic letters and street songs; accounts of travel and records of sport—the whole range of letters, in its widest acceptation, from the “Cambridge Platonists” to the “fraternity of vagabonds.” And, since the literatures of the British Colonies and of the United States are, in the main, the literature of the mother-country, produced under other skies, it is intended to give, in their proper place, some account of these literatures also.   7
  Though the editors are jointly responsible for the work as a whole—both text and bibliographies—it is obvious that an undertaking of this nature could no more be accomplished by one or two men than the Cambridge Modern History could have been written by a few hands. It could only be begun, and can only be carried to completion by the continued co-operation of many scholars, who, whether British or American, hold their common heritage as a thing of worth, and by the ungrudging assistance of continental scholars, whose labours in the field of our national literature entitle them to the gratitude of Englishmen. This twofold assistance the editors have been fortunate enough to secure for the volumes already in immediate preparation. In addition to chapters written by English scholars, from without Cambridge as well as from within, the readers of the Cambridge History of English Literature will have the benefit of contributions from specialists of other countries; and it is the sincere hope of the editors that they may enjoy the same generous support until their task is done.   8
  It remains to thank those who, apart from the actual contributors, have aided the editors in the work of the earlier volumes now in hand. And, first, they would desire to remember with gratitude the labours of their predecessors: Thomas Warton, whose History of English Poetry may be, and, in many respects, has been, superseded, but is never likely to be forgotten or cast aside; Thomas Wright, whose industry and enthusiasm in the cause of medieval letters and archaeology allows us to forget his failings; George Lillie Craik, whose modest efforts kindled in many men still living their first affection for English letters; Henry Morley, who devoted a laborious and zealous life to the noble end of making English writers widely accessible to students and who died before he could complete the last and most important piece of work he set himself to do; Bernard ten Brink, whose history of English literature to the death of Surrey must long remain unsurpassed on its own ground—“Great things”; as he himself said of Surrey’s tragic end, “he might still have accomplished, but what he did accomplish has not been lost to posterity.” Hippolyte Taine, the master of analysis and the first to show the full significance of the study of a nation’s literature for the study of its general history; Hermann Hettner, in whose History of English Literature from 1660 to 1770, and the companion accounts of French and German literature in the eighteenth century, the comparative method is luminously applied; Georg Brandes, whose Main Currents in the Literature of the Nineteenth Century reveals an extraordinary quickness of intellectual insight and a not less uncommon breadth of moral sympathy; Henry Duff Traill, whose brilliant gifts are held in affectionate remembrance by those who have come under their spell, and whose symposium, Social England, should be in the hands of all who desire to possess “a record of the progress of the people”; L. Petit de Julleville, whose Histoire de la Langue et de la Littèrature française has been of special value and assistance in the planning of the present work; Grein, Kölbing, Mätzner, Wülker, Zupitza and many other eminent Teutonic scholars who have made, and are making, the paths smoother for their contemporaries and for their successors. The brilliant Histoire Littèraire du Peuple Anglais of M. J. J. Jusserand has been constantly in the hands of the editors of this work, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Dictionary of National Biography have, as a matter of course, been laid under contribution, together with the extremely useful Chamber’s Cyclopaedia of English Literature, a work which, used with delight in its old form, many years ago, by the writers of this preface, has, in its revised garb, proved of considerable use. The invaluable Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur, with which is associated the names of H. Paul, W. Braune, and E. Sievers, has been repeatedly referred to, and always with advantage, while the bibliographies will show what use has been made of Anglia, Englische Studien, Romania, the publications of American Universities and of Modern Language associations. In this last connection may be mentioned the Modern Language Review, recently reconstituted under the editorship of Prof. J. G. Robertson. For advice on certain points in the present volume, or for assistance in other ways, the editors’ thanks are also due to Dr. F. J. Furnivall, whose labours, together with those of the band of fellow-workers in the Early English Text Society, have done much to remove the reproach that Englishmen were not alive to the beauties of their own literature; to Professor W. W. Skeat, Miss Steele Smith, Prof. G. L. Kittredge and to Prof. Alois Brandl, with other eminent members of the Deutsche Shakespeare Gesellschaft; and to the writings of Dr. Stopford A. Brooke, Professor Albert S. Cook, Prof. T. R. Lounsbury and Prof. W. H. Schofield. Other debts, too numerous to set forth in detail, it has only been possible to acknowledge by the insertion of names and titles of works in the bibliographies; but our thanks will, we trust, be read “between the lines” by all our fellow-workers.
A. W. W.    
A. R. W.    

    PETERHOUSE, CAMBRIDGE
        2 August, 1907
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CONTENTS · INDEX TO CHAPTERS · INDEX TO BIBLIOGRAPHIES · INDEX TO AUTHORS
 
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