« PreviousContinue »
sults; in others there is too much reason to suspect that the text must be bettered hereafter, since for several of the writers represented no good modern editing has been accomplished. It has fortunately been possible to give a sound text in certain cases where there has been conspicuous need of one: for example, the text of Defoe's essay on Academies and his Shortest Way with the Dissenters has been taken from original sources, and corrects errors which have been multiplied in earlier reprints. Spelling and punctuation have been everywhere modernized.
Footnotes have been supplied according to a principle which cannot be followed with consistency, but which amounts to this: give only such information as may be assumed to be necessary for the apprehending of the general meaning of the text and not to be available in a convenient dictionary. Extended or uncommon quotations from Latin writers, so beloved in our period, have been translated; phrases which should be the property of every cultivated person have not. Perhaps an incidental result of the reading of this book may prove to be some mitigation of the heresy that it is possible to know English literature without understanding the Latin tongue.
And now, if any one may be presumed to have read this Preface thus far, the editor may venture to ask the privilege, after setting forth impartially the words of so many other and better men, to do himself the pleasure of adding two remarks which follow from the repeated reading, in manuscript and proof, of the whole contents of the volume. The first remark is in no way a matter of literature, but tends toward cheerfulness of mind so clearly that it may be justifiable in any connection. Whoever dips far into these eighteenth-century authors will discover that in their age it was believed that men were more eager than in earlier times for the getting and the display of wealth; that the whole world was forsaking the country and making life wretched in cities; that old-fashioned honesty and simplicity of manners were becoming hard to find; that young persons were increasingly disrespectful of their elders; that books and periodicals were being multiplied to an alarming excess; and that churchgoing, with other practices of the Christian religion, was rapidly going out of use. These were some of the characteristic ills of the period. Perhaps, then, when the reader is next told that they are the characteristic ills of the early twentieth
century, he may suspect that they were equally so in the first, the fifth, and the fifteenth, and may derive some consolation thereby.
The second remark, more germane to the purposes of the book, is that the repeated perusal of this corpus of eighteenthcentury prose has tended always to increase, on the part of at least one reader, his respect for the person and works of Samuel Johnson. The space here accorded him is by no means due to mere tradition or literary orthodoxy, but to a genuine belief in the lasting worth of what he had to say. Granted certain of his pet foibles, — such as the habit of beginning every composition with a sonorous abstraction that gives no remotest clue to the subject in hand, and his willful unappreciativeness of a republican like Milton or a dilettante like Gray, — and where shall you find one who wrote on almost everything and said so little, whether on attics, morals, or Shakespeare, which is not still true and still important? So let the Preface end with him, as it began; and it is to the memory of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., at once the most sturdy and the most pathetic figure among its contributors, that this book would be dedicated, were it not presumption thus lightly to seek to disturb so venerable a ghost.
R. M. A.