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additional extracts. The index to all the extracts in the book should assist the student in locating every quotation from any writer he may have in view.
While he has never neglected the practical aspect of his task, the writer of the present work has never been content with a bleak summary of our literary history. It has been his ambition to set out the facts with clearness, vivacity, and some kind of literary elegance. How far he has succeeded the reader must judge.
The use of the Bibliography (Appendix II) is strongly urged upon all readers. Such a book as the present cannot avoid being fragmentary and incomplete. The student should therefore pursue his inquiries into the volumes mentioned in the Appendix. Owing to the restrictions of space, the Bibliography is small. But all the books given are of moderate price or easily accessible. Moreover, they have been tested by repeated personal use, and can be recommended with some confidence.
There remains to set on record the author's gratitude to his colleagues and good friends, for their skill and goodnature in revising the manuscript and in making many excellent suggestions.
E. A. EDINBURGH
Permissions to use copyrighted material have been courteously granted by the following American publishers :
Brentano's, Inc. for the right to print extracts from the works of Bernard Shaw; E. P. Dutton & Company for Siegfried Sassoon; Duffield & Company for H. G. Wells; Dodd Mead & Company for Rupert Brooke; Harper & Brothers for Thomas Hardy; John W. Luce & Company for J. M. Synge; and Charles Scribner's Sons for John Galsworthy, and R. L. Stevenson.
We have also obtained from the literary agents of Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, and J. E. Flecker, permission to use the selections included from these authors. To all the above we wish to express our acknowledgment and thanks.
A HISTORY OF
THE OLD ENGLISH PERIOD
Of the actual facts concerning the origin of English literature we know little indeed. Nearly all the literary history of the period, as far as it concerns the lives of actual writers, is a series of skillful reconstructions based on the texts, fortified by some scanty contemporary references (such as those of Bede), and topped with a mass of conjecture. The results, however, are astonishing and fruitful, as will be seen even in the meager summary that appears in the following pages.
THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
The period is a long one, for it starts with the fifth century and concludes with the Norman Conquest of 1066. The events, however, must be dismissed very quickly. We may begin in 410 with the departure of the Romans, who left behind them a race of semi-civilized Celts. The latter, harassed by the inroads of the savage Caledonians, appealed for help to the adventurous English. The English, coming at first as saviors, remained as conquerors (450–600). In the course of time they gained possession of nearly all the land from the English Channel to the Firth of Forth. Then followed the Christianizing of the pagan English, beginning in Kent (597), a movement that affected very
deeply all phases of English life. In succession followed the inroads of the Danes in the ninth century; the rise of Wessex among the early English kingdoms, due in great measure to the personality of King Alfred, who compromised with the Danes by sharing England with them (878); the accession of a Danish dynasty in England (1017); and the Gallicizing of the English Court, a process that was begun before the Conquest of 1066. All these events had their effect on the literature of the period.
LITERARY FEATURES OF THE PERIOD
1. Pagan Origins. The earliest poems, such as Widsith and Beowulf, present few Christian features, and those that do appear are clearly clumsy additions by later hands. It is fairly certain, therefore, that the earliest poems came over with the pagan conquerors. They were probably the common property of the bards or gleemen, who sang them at the feasts of the warriors. As time went on Christian ideas were imposed upon the heathen poetry, which retained much of its primitive phraseology.
2. Anonymous Origins. Of all the Old English poets, we have direct mention of only one, Cædmon. The name of another poet, Cynewulf, is obscurely hinted at in three separate runic or riddling verses. Of the other Old English poets we do not know even the names. Prose came much later, and, as it was used for practical purposes, its author. ship is in each case established.
3. The Imitative Quality. Nearly all the prose, and the larger part of the poetry, consists of translations and adaptations from the Latin. The favorite works for translation were the lives of saints, the books of the Bible, and various works of a practical nature. The clergy, who were almost the sole authors, had such text-books at hand, and were rarely capable of reaching beyond them. This secondhand nature of Old English is certainly its most disappointing feature. In most cases the translations are feebly imitative; in a few cases the poets (such as Cynewulf) or the prose-writers (such as Alfred) alter, expand, or comment