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There are two mistakes which may be made. The first is an ambitious effort to cover too much ground an effort that inevitably issues in hazy and barren results. The student is confused by the multitude of often unimportant details. The other mistake, far too common, in this day of educational science, is the study of only a few authors wholly detached from their place in the development of English literature. By this onesided method, the student is deprived of a comprehensive view of the gradual and marvelous development of English literature, without which no single author can be adequately understood and appreciated.
It is confidently believed that the use of the present work will avoid both these mistakes. The representative authors, who include nineteen of the greatest names in English literature, are here studied in their several periods and their various social surroundings. They are seen, on the one hand, among the conditions that made them possible, and, on the other hand, they are viewed in the light of their influence on the subsequent course of literary development. In this manner, the student's knowledge becomes, at the same time, comprehensive, definite, and duly co-ordinated.
It will be observed that each period closes with suggestions for further reading and study. When there is time for it, and also a good library at command, the use of these suggestions, as every competent teacher will recognize, may be made very profitable. These suggestions are intended to enlarge the student's knowledge of the subject, and to give him a taste for independent investigation. At the same time, illustrative readings and original essays will give interest and variety to classroom work.
In conclusion, the author may be permitted to express his sense of the importance of the study of English literature. It is a proud intellectual heritage. An acquaintance with its leading facts and its principal authors is generally regarded as an indispensable part of a liberal education. But as an educating instrumentality its value is not so generally recognized. Yet scarcely any other study is so well adapted, in the hands of a skilful teacher, to awaken the mind of the young student; and as he appropriates its varied and profound thought, and sympathizes with its multiform and refined sentiment, he is gradually lifted to the heights of culture attained by the English race through centuries of struggle.