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... HENRY MORLEY,
PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH LITERATURE AT UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, AND EXAMINER
THE UNIVERSITY OF LONDON.
CASSELL, PETTER, & GALPIN,
London, PARIS, AND New YORK.
270. gi 442
BASIL VALENTINE said, in his Triumphant Chariot of Antimony, “ The shortness of life makes it impossible for one man thoroughly to learn Antimony, in which every day something of new is discovered.” What shall we say then of all the best thought of the best men of our nation in all times? Let no beginner think that when he has read this book, or any book, or any number of books for any number of years, he will have thoroughly learned English Literature. We can but study faithfully and work on from little to more, 'never to much. Basil Valentine felt in his own way with that teacher of the highest truth who wrote, “If any man think he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.”
This book is but a first sketch of what in “ English Writers” it is the chief work of my life to tell as fully and as truly as I can. But no labour of this kind is intended to save any one the pains of reading good books for himself. It is useful only when it quickens the desire to come into real contact with great minds of the past, and gives the kind of knowledge that will lessen distance between us and them. As far as our wit serves, we understand the books of our own day because we live with them. Knowledge common to us as the air we breathe will hereafter be a part of the detail necessary to make that fresh and pleasant to a student in the future, which the idler may enjoy now without trouble.
Together with a first outline of our literature, some account of the political and social history of England should be read ; and while each period is being studied, direct acquaintance should be made with one or two of its best books. Whatever examples may be chosen should be complete pieces, however short, not extracts, for we must learn from the first to recognise the unity of a true work of genius. A short Appendix gives the names and prices of a few of the books suitable for use in this way, and contains a page to be read with the chapter upon Chaucer and his time.