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The unexampled fertility of the press in our day naturally tends to throw into obscurity the literary productions of former generations. The few and brief intervals of leisure which can be rescued from the busy avocations of JifeH-f^r^the study of literature, scarcely suffice for't^Q:acqtij^^;^n of such an acquaint- ance with the woa:kft.i^f c6h1^%i^ authors as every intelligent man iSJ'expected tp ^possess. The scholar and the professed »an of lettjEirs must indeed aspire to something more J ' {xdwi them we demand that knowledge of the whole field of English literature, without which it is impossible to form any well- grounded estimate of the literary progress of our country, or of the value of the contributions which the present era has made to the literary wealth of the nation. But to the great majority of the reading public, the study of our older literature has now be- come an almost impracticable pursuit. Not that there is any want of appreciation of those literary masterpieces which so many ages have agreed to admire. Never were the merits of the great writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries more


freely admitted than they are by all the critical au- thorities of the present day ; but when the time available for reading is so inadequate to meet all the demandsi upon it, it is only a natural result that our attention should be wholly engrossed with the litera- ture of our own day, and that works of an older date, however worthy of perusal, should in general remain unread.

Such a work as the piresent seems to offer the best means of extricating ourselves from the embarrass- ment in which the very superabundance of our literary treasures has involved us. A series of well-selected ex- tracts, from the writings of the most important authors in every form of prose composition from the earliest period when the language is intelligible to an ordinary reader, down to the present time seems, beyond any doubt, the best substitute for that actual perusal of the great body of our literature, from which, in our present circumstances, the majority of readers are precluded. To furnish such a series of extracts has been the Editor's aim in his present work. Where the field is so extensive, the labour of selection is in a corresponding degree difficult; the extracts, how- ever, have been selected with the greatest care ; and while it would be presumption to assert that no better could be procured, it is hoped they will be found sufficient to give the reader a just and compre- hensive idea of the characteristic peculiarities of our prose literature at every period of our history. To disinter the works of forgotten authors, little esteemed by their contemporaries, and long consigned to oblivion, was no part of the Editor's intention. His


design has been to present within a brief compass specimens of the prose literature in general circula- tion am,ong us during the last three centuries. To accomplish this design it was manifestly necessary that the illustrative extracts should be selected from a wide circle of authors, and accordingly writers of every class have been laid under contribution : divines, historians, critics, moralists, travellers, novel- ists, politicians, and philosophers, writers who pre- pared carefully for the press, and writers whose manu- scripts were not intended for the public eye. Strictly scientific subjects have of course been excluded, and nothing indelicate has been inserted. But with these exceptions, every department of prose composition will, it is believed, be found represented in the foUowiug pages. No political or religious prejudices have been allowed to interfere with the selection of the authors. Churchmen high and low, Dissenters of various denominations, and politicians of all parties, have been inserted, and are permitted to give ex- pression in their own words to their peculiar opinions. A glance at the table of contents will show that extracts have been made from the works of nearly a hundred of our chief prose writers, embracing many of the most famous passages in our language.

That nothing may be wanting to render the pre- sent work a complete introduction to English prose literature, a historical sketch has been prefixed to each of the four periods under which the extracts have been ranged, giving a plain and concise view of the progress of our literature from the earliest


times to the present day. The Editor has also sup- plied biographical notices of the authors from whose works selections have been made ; and as these have been compiled from the best authorities, and are accompanied with a brief critical estimate of the merits of the writers' works, it is expected that they will prove highly serviceable to the reader. Passages which, from their obscurity or any other cause, might be uninteresting or repulsive, have been avoided ; but where any difficulty occurs in the extracts that have been inserted, it has been explained in a note. Most readers look upon numerous and learned notes as a mere incumbrance, and the Editor has accordiugly made his notes as few and brief as would consist with the accomplishment of the object he had in view. With the same design of removing every obstacle that might impede the reader's progress, the uncouth and irregular orthography of our older authors, so precious in the eyes of the literary anti- quarian, has been reduced to a modem standard. Obsolete words, however, and peculiar inflections, which mark the epochs in the history of the gradual refinement of our language, have been carefully re- tained, the reader being referred for an explanation of them to the illustrative notes which accompany the passage where they occur.

The advantages which may be derived from the perusal of a series of literary extracts, chronologi- cally arranged, are tpo obvious to need to be enforced at length. Thus only can we trace with accuracy the gradual progress of opinion, and the rise, development, and fluctuations of great principles among us. It is


interesting and highly instructive, for example, to mark the contrast between the crude, social views of Sir Thomas More, as stated in the extracts given from his " Utopia," and the philosophical teachings of modem political science, as expounded in the selec- tions from Gibbon, Adam Smith, and Whately. The period when the sermons of Latimer were those best suited to the exigencies of the age, und the period when Chalmers was the great pulpit-orator of the day, are separated by other intervals besides that of time ; and how varied and significant are the lessons which the comj)arison unavoidably suggests. If it were necessary to adduce any proof of the advantages which the general diflFusion of education and the universal circulation of literature have conferred upon the pre- sent generation, nothing could more conspicuously display our superiority than a comparison between the idle, ignorant gossip of our earliest traveller, Mande- ville, and the careful research and universal accom- plishments of Layard. Of all prose writings, the works of travellers aim most at immediate popularity, and are the surest index of the mental cultivation of the era which produces them; and without unduly exaggerating the progress which the general mind of the country has made, it will at all events be admitted, that the time has long gone by when any traveller could so far presume upon the unlimited credulity of his readers as to assure them (as Mandeville has done), that " if a man cast iron into the Dead Sea it will float on the surface ; but if men cast a feather therein it will sink to the bottom/'

It would indeed argue unpardonable ignorance to


maintain, in a volume which contains extracts from the writings of Bacon, and Taylor, and Hall, that the progress of knowledge has enlarged the capacity of the human mind. Q-enius is the same in all ages ; and writers in the rudest times, as well as those of a more polished and enlightened era, have reached those limits beyond which the faculties of the human soul seem unable to penetrate. It is, however, equally undeniable, that in such .a work as the present we may trace the gradual elevation of the general mind of the com- munity as knowledge is more generally diffused ; a result which, while it enables us to look back on the past with pleasure and gratitude, warrants us to look forward to the future with hope.

One source of regret has occasionally mingled with the compilation of the present work. The limits within which, for obvious reasons, it has been con- fined, rendered it necessary not only to omit many authors worthy to find a place in any extensive collec- tion of English literature, but, even in the works from which selections have been made, to pass over many passages of the highest merit. Such as it is, however, the Editor hopes it will be found an acceptable boon to the generality of readers ; and he confidently be- lieves that those who are best acquainted with our literature will be the most willing to receive with in- dulgence any attempt to diffuse more generally a relish for a pursuit which has been to them an unfail- ing source of pleasure and instruction.


Intboductobt Noticb


Pebiod I. ^This period extends from the time of Chancer to that of Shakspere, or from the reign of Bichard II. to near the close of that of Elizabeth. It is characterised by a genera] rudeness and want of polish, both in the language and the thought ; redeemed, boweyer, by many good features, which gave promise of the future excellence of our literature.


Geoffrey Ghanoer,

born 1328, died 1400 On the Choice of Friends


19 13

Sir John MaundeTllle,

TK>m 1833, died 1883 ? . 16

The Dead Sea ... 16 Of the Country where Pepper Growi^

and the WeU of Toiith . 17

Of the Great Chan of Cathay . 18

Sir Thomas More,

bom 1480, beheaded U86 . 80

Description of Utopia . . 31

Occupations of the Utopians . 38 General View of the Happiness of the

Utopians . . . 3ff

Wynkyn de Worde.

Anthor unknown: the printer Wynkyn de Worde flourished in the beginning of the six- teenth century . . 27 The Profits of Tribulation . 27

Bishop latimer,

bom probably 1490, martyred 1665 28 Against Bribery and Corruption in

Judges . . .29

Against Covetousness . . 80

The Deril a Diligent Preacher 81



Soger Ascham,

bom 1616, died 1668 . . 83

Occupations should be suited to Men's

Faculties . . 88

Anecdote of Lady Jane Grey 84

John Knox,

bom 1606, died 1673 . . 86

The Downcasting of the Friars in

Perth . . . .86

Dispute between Knox and Lethlng-

ton . . . .88

John Fox,

bora 1617, died 1687 . . 41

LUb and Story of Bishop Ridley . 41 Martyrdom of Bishop Ridley . 48

Bishop Jewel,

bom 1633, died 1671 . . 46

Claim to Antiquity made by the Ro- man Catholics . . 47

Baphael Holinshed and William Harrison.

HoUnshed died 1683 . . 48

Of the Apparel and Attire of the

English ... 49

Of the General Constitution of the

Bodies of the Britons . . 61

Story of Canute and his Courtiers 63



Hobort 0r60]i6«

bora 1560, died U92 Fortltode in Adversity


53 54

Robert Soutliwell,

bom 1560, execated 1595 Sabmlssion to Death

Page 65

Period II. This period extends from the time of Shakspere to that of Pope, or from the end of the reign of Elizabeth to the acces- sion of Anne. The literature of this period is distinguished by its earnestness, grandeur of thought, and dignity of language ; it em- braces most of the greatest names in our literary annals.

Historical Sketch ;

Blohard Hooker,

bom probably in 1558, died leOO 68 An Exhortation to Candoor and Mo- deration • . .68 Introduction to Ecdeaiaetiod Polity;

KatareofLaw. . 70

Saperstltion and its Two Canaea . 73 Defence of the English Service a^^ainat

the Paritans . . . 74

The Psalnu and Chorch Mosic . 75

Lord Bacon,

bom 1561, died 1626 . . 76

Of Boldness ... 77

OfDelajrs . . . .78

Of Studies .... 79

Interpretation of the Fable of Pan 80

From the Advancement of Learning

Of Unprofitable Subtlety . 83

Deference to Great Names . 84

Antiquity . . . 84

Mistalies as to the True End of

Learning . . . 84

Dignity of Learning . . 85

Sir Walter Saleigh,

bom 1552, beheaded 1618 . 85 That Man is a Little World . 86

Of the PJeasantest Habitations under

the Equinoctial . . 88

Of the Indian Fig-tree . . 89

The Transitory Nature of Human

Happiness . . .90

William Chillingworth,

bom 1602, died 1644 . . 91

That it is Easier to Understand Scrip- ture than the Councils of the

Church ... 91

Against Intolerance . . 94

The Religion of Protestants . 94

Sir William Dmmmond,

bom 1585, died 1649 . 95

Death .... 96

Bishop Hall,

bom 1574, died 1656 . . 98

The Male-Content ... 99 The Slothful . . .100

How to Spend our Days . . 102

Occasional Meditations . .

Shimei*s Cursing . . .

John Hilton,

bom 1608, died 1674 . From the Areopagitlca— Value of a Book . Difficulty of Enforcing a licensing

System Evil Effects of Licensing in Sup- pressing Inquiry Opinion of Milton in his Later Years

oftheCivUWar Milton's Personal Appearance

Thomas Hbbhes,

bom 1588, died 1679 .

Necessity of Precision in Ushig Lan- guage ....

Natural State of Man one of War

Natural Laws— Nature of a Common- wealth ....

Comparison of the Papacy with the Elingdom of Fairies .


104 105





112 114


116 117



Jeremy Taylor,

bom 1618, died 1667 . Considerations of the Vanity and

Shortness of Man's Lifb Of Gontentedness in Poverty . Prayer hindered by Anger

Prayer never out of Seaison Marriage .... Folly of Sin A Good Man the only Trae Friend

Thomas Fuller,

bora 1608, died 1661 . The Gtood Yeoman The Faitlifnl Minister OfBooks .... Life of Gustavus Adolphus Martyrdom of Ridley

Abraham Ck»wley,

bom 1618, died 1667 . Cromwell's Government . Essay on Solitude .

Sir Thomas Browne,

bom 1605, died 1683 .


122 128 125 126 127 128 129

131 131 132 134 135 137

187 138 141




From the Belifrlo Medici .

Wooden of Nature


Man's BodT

Of the End of the World From the Hydrlotaphia .

Lord Clarendon,

born 1608, died 1674 . Character of Hampden Battle of Dunbar Adventures of Charles XL after the

Pags 145 146 147 148 148 149

Battle of Worcester .

Jolm Bimyan,

born 1628, died 1688 . Christian at the Cross Christian climbs the hiU Difficulty

Owen Fellfham,

date of birth and death unlcnown Of Truth and Bitterness in Jest . Of Reconciling Enemies . OfLaw ....

■re Hntohinaon,

bom 1620

Character of Charles L

Origin of the name Roundhead .

Hutchinson's Intenrlevwith Crom- well ....

Character of Cromwell's OoTern- ment ....

Inak Walton,

bom 1598, died 1683 . On Thankfiilness . Praise of Song Birds,

leaae Barrow,

bom 1680. died 1677 . Benefits of Wisdom Government of the Tongue Charity

Samnel Pepye,

bom 1682, died 1708 . Description of the Fire in London

162 168 164


168 169 160

162 162 168 164

166 166 166



169 170 173

174 174 176 177

179 179


The Appearance of the Dutch Fleet

In the Thames . 182

Biohard Baxter,

bom 1616, died 1691 . . 188 Vanity of Ki^owledge . .184

Baxter's Opitiion of the Covenant 186

The Joy of the Saints' Rest . 188

ArchbiBhop Tilloteon,

bom 1630, died 1694 . . 189

Imprudence of Atheism . . 190

On being Diligent in our Calling 191

On Troth and Integrity . . 193

John Looke,

bom 1632, died 1704 . . 194

Of the Origin of our Ideas . 196

Toleration .... 196 Duty of the Magistrate In reference

to Toleration . . .198

John Evelyn,

bora 1620, died 1706 . 199

Character of Charles II. . 200

Trial of Lord Stafford . . 201

Sir William Temple,

bom 1628, died 1699 . . 208

Character of the English . 204

Praises of Poetry and Music 206 Comparison of Ancient and Modem

Learning . . 206

Biahop Bnmet,

bom 1643, died 1716 . The Massacro of Glencoe . On the proper Conduct of Princes Character of William of Orange .

John Bryden,

bom 1681, died 1700 . Comparison of Virgil and Homer Chaucer . . . .

Shakspero and Ben Jonson

Bobert South,

Dom 1038, died 1714 . Power of y^mes Man beforo £he Fall

209 210 212 213

S16 216 217 210

220 221



Period III. Tliis period extends from the time of Pope to that of Cowper, or from the accession of Anne to the breaking out of the French Revolution. The writers of this period, while inferior in dig- nity and earnestness to their predecessors, were more attentive to regularity in composition, correctness in language, and vivacity in style. To this period belong our greatest historians.



Joseph Addiion,

born 1672, died 1719 . . 240

Sir Roger de Coverley at the Assizes 240 The Works of Creation . . 243

The Mountain of Miseries . . 244

The Political Upholsterer . . 246

Sir Siohard Steele,

bom 1675, died 1729 . . 249

On Tedions Story-tellers . . 249

The Story of Inkle and Yarioo . 251

Flattering Companions . . 253

Lord Shaftesbury,

bom 1671, died 1718 . . 254

The Deity unfolded in His Works 255

Jonathan Swift,

bom 1667, died 1745 . . 258

Diversions at the Court of LUIiput 259

The Academy of Sciences at Lagado 260

The Spider and the Bee . . 263

Daniel Defoe,

bom 1663, died 1731 . 266

Incident during the Plague in Lon- don .... 267 Robhisoa Crasoe^s Difficulties with his Harvest . . .269

Alexander Pope,

bom 1688, died 1744 . . 271

Education of Martlnus Scriblerus 272 On Cracdty to Animals . . 274

Description of an Old Country-house 276

Lord Bolinghroke,

bom 1678, died 1751 . . 279

The Study of Natural Philosophy . 279

Disregard ofTmth in Controversy 280

The Patriot King . . 281

Bishop Berkeley,

bom 1684, died 1758 . . 288

Superior Morality of Christian Coun- tries .... 284 Reflections on the General Corrup- tion of Morals in Britain . 286

Bishop Butler,

bora 1692, died 1752 . . 286

Of the Govemment of God by Re- wards and Punishments 287 Of Bridling the Tongue . 290


Paob Henry Fielding,

bom 1707, died 1754 . . 292

The Disasters which befell Jones on

his Departure for Coventry . 298 Adventure of Jones with a High- wayman . . .295

Laurence Sterne,

bom 1718, died 1768 . . 297

Uncle Toby and his Miniature Sieges 297 The Dead Ass . . .299

The Supper at the French Cottage 801 The Monk . . . .802

Tobias Smollett,

bom 1721, died 17n . . 804

Roderick Random's Progress at

School . . . .805

Roderick's Adventure with a Sharper

in London . . . 306

Oliver Goldsmith,

bom 1728, died 1774 . . 308 Vanity of Popular Fame . . 309 On tiie Increased Love of Life with

Age . . .311

Moses at the Fair . . .313

David Hume,

bom 1711, died 1776 . 815

Execution of Mary Queen of Scots 316 Manners during the Reign^ of James

I. . . 818

Character of Queen Elizabeth . 820 Refinement Favourable to Happi- ness and Virtue . . 322

Dr Johnson,

bom 1709, died 1784 . . 824

General Prevalence of Discontent 825

A Disquisition upon Greatness . 327

Religious Use of Retirement . 828 Tlie Reverence paid to Ancient

Writers 330

Comparison of Dryden and Pope . o32

The Inequality of Mankind . 334

Dr Bohertson,

bom 1721, died 1793 . Voyage of Columbus to America Character of Regent Moray

Edward Gibbon,

bom 1737, died 1794 .

835 336 841




Paob Death of Mahomet . . .848

TheCnuaden . .846

DiscoYery of the Holy Lance at Aiw

tioch .... 846 General Condition of the Boman Empire in the Age of the An- tonines .... 348

Horace Walpole,

born 1718, died 1797 . . 852

Execution of Loids Bahnerino and

Kihnamock . . .863

The Earthquake In London in 1760 864

bom 1780, died 1797 . . 366

English Reverence for Antiquity . 866 Character of RouBBeau . 868

Impeachment of Warren HastingB 869 On Condliation with the American

CoUmiea . .860

Adun Bmithf

horn 1728, died 1790 . . 862

Extent of Sympathy 862

That we have a Stronger Propensity to Sympathise with Joy than Sorrow .... 864

Inequalities in Wages . 866

Paob Adrantages of the DItIsIok. of Labour 867

Hugh Blair,

bom 1718, died 1800 . . 869

Rise and Progress of Language . 869 Gentleness . . . .872

Dr Adam Fergnson,

bom 1724, died 1816 . 874

Of the Influences of Climate and

Situation on Society . . 374

Comparison of the Greeks and Bo- mans with Modern nations 877

Hanrv Xadkfiniio.

bom 1746, died 1881 The Story of La Roche

878 379

Dr George Campbell,

bom 1719, died 1796 . . 886

Necessity of Appealing to thePaaslons

in order to effect Persuasion 886 Affected Methods of Spelling 888

Jamei Beattie,

bom 1736, died 1799 The Love of Nature

890 890

Pesiod IV. This period extends from the time of Cowper or the French Revolution to the present day. The beginning of it was characterized by intense mental activity, and by the abundance and excellence of its poetical literature.


. 893

Archdeaoon Paley,

bom 1748, died 1806 . . 412

ETidence in Favour of Christianity

from the Uanner of our Saviour's

Teaching . . .412

Adaptation of the Covering of Birds

to their Condition . . 416

Charles James Fox,

bom 1748, died 1806 418

Battle of Sedgemoor and Capture of Monmouth . . . 418

Dngald Stuart,

bom 1768, died 1828 . . 421

State ofthe Mind during Sleep . 421 The Varietiesof Memory in Different

Individuals . . .424

William HasUtt,

bom 1778, died 1830 The Past and the Future Indian Jugglers Character of Falstaff

426 426 427 429

Bobert Hall,

bora 1764, died 1881 . 431

On Infidelity . . .482

The War with Napoleon . 483

Meeting of the Pious in Heaven 436

Sir Walter Boott,

bom 1771, died 1832 . 436

Sherwood Forest in the Time of

Richard L . .437

The Flsherroan's Funeral . . 439

Raleigh's First Interview with Queen

Elizabeth . . .441

Sir Jamea Kaokintosh,

bora 1766, died 1832 . 444

Right of Resistance to Qovernment 446

Samuel Taylor Ck>leridge,

bora 1772, died 1884 . 447

Influence of Patriotism on National

Progress . 448

The Lord hdpeth Man and Beast 460 Advantage of Method . 461



Charles Lamb,

bom 1776, died 1886 The Poor Relation . Thoughts on Books


462 453 456

John Poster,

bom 1770, died 1843 . . 467

The Cause of Religion Xi^Jured by the Oeneral Inferiority of Evangeli- cal Writers . . .458 Comparison of Countries In Ancient and Modem Times . . 4|S

Bohert Sonthey,

bom 1774, died 184S . 462

Final Departure of Nelson firom Eng- land: his Death . . 462

Dr Chalmers,

bom 1780, died 1847 . . 466

The Transitory Nature of Visible

Things . . . .467

On Spiritual Blindness . . 469

Oraelty to Animals . . 471

Lord JefE^,

bom 1778, died 1850 . . 473

Mortality of the Immortals . 478

Rise and Decline of the Style of Queen

Aune*s Reign . . . 475

Sydney Smith,

bora 1768, died 1846 . . 477

Advantages of Studying Utla aul

Greek .... 478 Recommendation of Brevity to Au- thors .... 479 Extracts flrom the Letters of Peter Plymley . . .480

Professor Wilson,

bom 1785, died 1854 . 482

A Scottish Cottage . . .482

The Snow-storm . . . 484

Critical Extracts Wordsworth ;

Homer .... 486

Hngh Killer,

bom 1805, died 1857 . . 488

Improbability of any great Advance

in the Present State of Things 488 Traces of the Ocean . . 490

Henxy Hallam,

bom 1778, died 1859 . . 491

General View of the Advantages and

Evils ofthe Feudal System . 492 Houses and Furniture of the Nobles

In the Middle Ages . . 493

Paok Invention of Paper . . 495

Parallel between Cromwell and Na- poleon . . . .496

Thomas Carlyle,

bom 1796 Visit to a Model Prison Richard Arkwrigbt Labour Liberty

497 498 501 601 603

Sir Edward Bnlwer lytton,

bom 1806 . . .503

Uncle Jack .... 504 Vance and Lionel at the Country

Fair . . . .605

Hampton Court Palace . . 607

Lord Maeaolay,

bom 1800 . . .608

Bath and London in 1686 . . 509

Character of William Piince of

Orange. . . .511

The Committal of the Seven Bishops

to the Tower . . .518

DistrciM and Relief of Londonderry 616 Dr Johnson . . . .518

Archbishop Whately,

bom 1787 On Wages . On Good Reading .

. 622 . 522 . 625

Charles Dickens,

bom 1812 Burialofa Tanper Death of Paul Dombey Character and Appearance of

Pecksniff Mrs Gamp's Apartment .

. 627 . 628 . 629 Mr

. 632 . 534

James A. Pronde

. 535

Character of Henry VIII. Character of Anne Boleyn Execution of Sir Thomas More

. 536 . 688 . 640

Dr Onthrie,

bom 1800 . . .542

Gradual Degradation of Towns . 642 Juvenile Ignorance and Misery . 644

Austin Layard,

bom 1817 . . .645

Discovery of the Great Lions at Nlm-

roud .... 645 Lowering and Removing of the Great

BnU .... 648

John Bnskin

The Clouds .

650 650



The literature of our countiy may be conyenientlj considered as divided into four periods : the first extending from Chaucer to Shakspere ; the second from Shakspere to Pope ; the ihird from Pope to Cowper ; and the fourth from Cowper to the present day. These periods do not exactly coincide with any remarkable chrono- logical eras ; nor does the division proceed upon any peculiarities in the structure and composition of the language employed by the writers comprehended in the yarious classes. The classification here adopted is founded on certain weU-defined differences in cast of thought and mode of expression, so prominently marked that one who is but slightly acquainted with our national literature can readily discern them. Speaking generally, it may be said that the first period commences with the reign of Richard II., and comes down to near the close of Elizabeth's reign ; the second extends thence to the accession of Anne ; the third embraces the time be- tween Anne's accession and the French Revolution ; and ihe fourth extends from that event to the present time. The first period may be briefly characterized as one of rudeness, both in thought and ex- pression, though by no means destitute of redeeming qualities ; the second as one distinguished by grandeur of thought, not always, how- ever, equally sustained, and dignity of expression, not, however, exempt from occasional rudeness ; the third by grace and vivacity of thought without much depth, neatness and simplicity of ex-


piesision without much dignity ; and the fourth by a combination, . vdth many peculiarities of its own, of the excellences of the two preceding periods. In the first age we see the early untutored efforts of the national mind beginning to rouse itself from the torpor of ages ; in the secorid, the influence of the revival of learning, and of the study of the great classical remains of antiquity, may be clearly traced; in the Mrd, the polish dmA. grace, neatness and liveliness of the Fr^ich writers, were regarded as the models of imitation ; while the fourihy influenced partly by a love for the speculations of Germany, but still more by a re-awakened enthusiasm for our own older authors, exhibits the deep-searching and dignified thought of an early period, arrayed in the chaste and graceful ease of a modem style. While these leading features wiQ be found in general characteristic of the authors in each period, it is not of course meant to be asserted that they are equally conspicuous in aU. In- dividual writers wiQ be found in every period adopting a style at variance with that prevalent at the time ; but this only corroborates the truth of the general remark, as their peculiarity serves to make more palpable the general similarity of the style from which they choose to depart




1. To the ordinary reader English literature begins with Chaucer. Even if we admit that the writings of those who preceded him are entitled to the honourable appellation of literaheref yet without some knowledge of Anglo-Saxon they are almost totally unintelligible. A word here and there may indeed be recognised, but the general scope and purpose of the author remain unknown. Without, therefore, en- tirely omitting all notice of the predecessors of Chaucer, a rery brief reference to them will suffice.

During the existence of the Saxon rule, four langnages were in common use in the island : the Saxon, which was spoken in England and the Lowlands of Scotland ; the Gaelic, in the Highlands of Scot- land ; the Welsh, a kindred dialect, in Wales ; and tiie Latin, which was everywhere the vehicle of communication among the clergy. As the clergy in those^ days had a monopoly of learning, they were naturally oifi: oldest authors, and our earliest literature is thus written in the Latin language. Of our old ecclesiastical authors the most' famous is the venerable Bede, a monk of Jarrow, on the Tyne (bom 67a, died 786), whose " Ecclesiastical History of England" is of con- siderable historical value. During the terrors occasioned by the Danish invasions, learning almost entirely disappeared, so that Alfred is said to have been unable to find a clergyman in Eng- land able to gite him instruction in Latin. Under that illustri- ous and patriotic prince, learning was encouraged and liberally re- warded. With a zeal for the spread of education far in advance of his own age, he has recorded his anxious desire, ''that all the free- bom youth of his people might persevere in learning till they oould perfectly read the English Scriptures." That good example might not be wanting, he himself translated into Saxon, for the Idification of his subjects, VMi<)us works, the chief being " Bede's History " and the "History of Orosius," along with some religious treatises bj^ St Augustine and Pope Gregory the Great. By the Bishops whom he em'ployed and rewarded for their learning, several parts of Scripture were translated into Anglo-Saxon, and the people were encouraged to study them. The only other prose writings in Anglo-Saxon were the monkish chronicles. These were brief registers of current events com- posed usually in some monastery ; and are interesting to the antiquary,


08 well as valuable to the historian. In poetir the most remarkable of the Anglo-Saxon writings is the " Vision of Cssdmon" (about 680), who belonged to the Monastery of Whitby, and who, in a poem of about six thousand lines, gives a poetical summary of Scripture history from the fall of the rebel angels to the day of judgment. His poem is said to possess a sort of distant resemblance to " Paradise Lost."

2. As compared with modem English, Anglo-Saxon differs chiefly in being an inflected language, that is, in being able, by some change in the termination, to express a modification in the meaning, which in English would require the use of prepositions or other auxiliary words. The nouns in Anglo-Saxon had many more eaaea than in Eng- lish ; some of the pronouns had even more numbers ; the adjectives were fully declined, as in Latin or German ; and the verb, besides hav- ing a much greater variety of terminations, could express the peculiar force of the potential mood without any assistance from auxiliaries. Thus it happens that though most of the words used in Anglo-Saxon exist in some shape in modem English, yet an extract from an Anglo- Saxon writer is, to a mere English scholar, not much more intelligible than would be one from a German author. This will be seen by the following passage from Alfred's translation of " Orosius," every word of which is still in use, and which is perhaps the very simplest that could be found in Anglo-Saxon :

" The hwffilbith micle IsBssa thonne othre hwalas, ne bith helengra thonne sivan elna lang, ac on his agnum lande is se betsta hwasl hun- tath : tha booth eahta and feowertiges elna lange, and tha mssstan fiftiges elna lange, thara he ssede th»t he sixa sum ofsloge sixtig on twam dagum."

" This whale is much less than other whales, it is not (literally, not is he) longer than seven ells long, but in his (the narrator's) own land is the best whale-hunting ; there are they eight and forty ells long, and the most fifty ells long, of these he said, that he with five others (literally, of six one) slew sixty in two days."

8. At the Conquest a new language, the Norman-French, was intro- duced. Its use was, however, confined to the higher classes, the others continuing to employ the Saxon. Efforts were made by the early Norman Kings to abolish the Saxon language, but these were unsuccessfol, and the two languages existed together for some time. By degrees, however, they began to combine, each borrowing from the other, and both losing many of their peculiarities. The language formed by this combination is called Old English, and is the basis of the langusige at present in use. The transition fifom the Anglo- Saxon to a language recognisable as English by ordinary readers was slow and gradual, and has been by some critics divided into two periods. {\.) The first of these extends from the Conquest to a.d. 1280, and is called Semi-Saxon. This period is distinguished partly by the use of Norman words, usually of Latin origin, but chiefly by the tendency to employ less frequently the inflections which formed so marked a feature in the Saxon tongue. During this period many works were produced, the most noted being the " Saxon Chronicle," written probably in the reign of Henry I. ; and a poem called the " Brut," by Layamon, a monk, which derives its name from its record- '»<r the history of England from the time of