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In the following pages the Author has attempted a task of no ordinary or inconsiderable difficulty. He has aimed at furnishing the general public with what may best be described as a Comprehensive Guide to English Literature. He has endeavoured to meet the wants of people of education and intelligence who are desirous of understanding and enjoying all they read, but are without the assistance of well-equipped libraries. It has been his object to condense into the present volume all the information that readers thus situated would be likely to require, as well as to supply the needs of those who are anxious merely to gain a few particulars in connection with authors and their productions. His work is one of reference rather than of criticism, an accumulation of facts rather than of opinions; yet an effort has been made to render it so generally interesting that it may be dipped into here and there with the certainty of something being found capable of giving pleasure as well as information.
The variety of the contents may best be estimated by an examination of a page or two, and their usefulness most appreciated after a brief experience. Roughly speaking, however, they may be grouped under the following heads :
All PROMINENT WRITERS, and writers of special interest, are carefully included, and, where possible, the following particulars concerning them are given : (1) dates of birth and in the case of deceased writers) death ; (2) titles of leading works, with dates of their production ; (3) notices of standard biography and criticism; and in many cases (4) critical extracts illustrative of their distinctive characteristics. No attempt has been made to go into biographical details; the object has been rather to indicate where such details are to be obtained, and thus to supply a want which most students and readers have experienced. The dates of birth and death are the result of a diligent comparison of authorities, whilst in most instances those of the publication of particular works have been given chronologically.
The titles of the CHIEF POEMs, Essays, Plays, and Novels in the language are recorded, accompanied by such particulars as their relative importance would appear to warrant
Similar treatment has been accorded to the more important WORKS OF PHILOSOPHY, SCIENCE, and the BELLES LETTRES ; under which latter head may be included notices of many curious single works not easily to be classified under any other of the divisions of Literature.