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A STUDY IN THE TASTE FOR
AMY LOUISE REED
PEOFESSOR OF ENGLISH, VASSAR COLLEGE
Submitted in Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for the
of Philosophy, Columbia University
This book is the belated consequence of a slight study of eighteenth century melancholy undertaken some years ago at Yale in a class of Professor Tinker's, but I owe to Professor E. H. Wright of Columbia the suggestion that the subject would prove fruitful for further investigation. In fact, the poetry of melancholy in English is so abundant, the varieties of it which I have been obliged to neglect are so many and so fascinating, I am now aware that it offers material not for one volume but for several. The news is, therefore, welcome that at least one such is now under way, a study of romantic melancholy.
In my own work, I was at first simply looking for the earliest manifestations of romantic melancholy. I found to my surprise that the more closely I inspected "romantic beginnings " such as, for instance, Parnell's Night Piece on Death, the more readily they resolved themselves into elements thoroughly familiar to readers of the preceding century, or even earlier, and the less they seemed to presage a new literary era. I came at last to the conclusion that up to the middle of the eighteenth century, the literature of melancholy included nothing which could be accurately described as romantic in the modern sense of that adjective, however influential such poems as Young's Night Thoughts, Blair's Grave and Gray's Elegy were later to become in the romantic movement.
1 By H. H. Clark, Harvard. See Mod. Lang. Notes for March and April, 1924.
This conclusion — which now seems to me quite natural rather than surprising — is, I know, merely an opinion, not capable of actual proof, and there may be many students to differ with me. The following pages collect and describe the evidence on which that opinion is based. There is much more material of the same character; almost any collection of miscellaneous seventeenth and eighteenth century pamphlets will yield several melancholy poems or prose pieces. But there is a point beyond which it seemed useless to confirm my statements further by quoting or listing publications of feeble literary quality. Except in a few cases, I have thought it unnecessary to the argument to seek out first editions.
Unfortunately for me, this book was completed in practically its present shape almost a year before the appearance of Professor R. D. Havens's illuminating study of The Influence of Milton. I am painfully conscious that in the light of such work as his, my numerous references to Milton's influence must seem lamentably superficial. But I have thought best to let them stand as they were written, without peppering my pages with footnote references to his monumental volume, which must be already familiar to anyone likely to be interested in my subject. I regret that a few of my sentences which resemble his in idea and phrasing are not evidence of any debt to him, for could I have read his book before beginning mine, I could have worked faster and to better purpose.
My chief indebtedness is to Professor W. P. Trent of Columbia University, who first, many years ago, introduced me to the delights of the eighteenth century, and under whose advice this study has been prepared for the press. With great patience and kindness, Professor Trent has read my manuscript at two different stages, the entire galley and part of the page proof, and has placed at my service
the resources of his scholarship. To Professor E. H. Wright I am also very grateful for reading manuscript and proof and for criticism of much acumen. My friend, Professor Laura J. Wylie of Vassar College, has done me the favor to read the manuscript and to point out lacunae in the treatment, not all of which I have been able to fill satisfactorily. But none of my critics should be held responsible for mistakes, blindnesses, or inadequate statements still to be found in the work.
I wish, finally, to express my appreciation of the many courtesies extended to me as a reader by the New York Public Library and the libraries of Columbia, Yale, and Harvard Universities and of Vassar College
A. L. R. VASSAR COLLEGE Poughkeepsie, New York.