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Nearly all histories of English literature, designed for college use, have had in view as their main purpose something other than the explanation of ideas which form the background of a writer's experience and which have in turn been influenced by his own peculiar contribution to their development. It is my hope, after several years in the conduct of a “Survey” course for university sophomores, that a history having as its object such a review of the deeper currents of English national life as they have gathered headway toward the present and have found expression in literature, will be of service to many instructors who are now compelled to fall back upon a more or less effective system of lectures. How England has solved the problems of her existence, how the human spirit has sought fit artistic expression for itself as it has faced these problems, and what lessons the splendid page of English letters may teach us, are the fruit of humanistic culture as we read the literature of the past.
Help of various kinds has been generously given me, and it is my peculiar pleasure to offer acknowledgment where it is due. To Professor R. G. Martin of Occidental College I am indebted for many helpful suggestions when a portion of the manuscript was submitted to him for criticism. Professor E. A. Aldrich of Tufts College and Professor Merritt Y. Hughes of the University of California have substantially aided me in a revision of the text. Especially do I wish to acknowledge the searching criticism of Professor Robert M. Smith of Lehigh
University, whose hand is present in nearly every page of this book. It is his approval that has encouraged me to venture publication. I have to thank Mr. Charles W. Gray, of the Southern Branch, one of those patient suphomores upon whom I tried out my theories and upon whom I inflicted the whole book for criticism and advice as to what most appealed to the university students. Finally, I owe a debt of gratitude to Professor J. F. A. Pyre of the University of Wisconsin, whose editorial pen was of inestimable value in bringing the entire book into greater effectiveness both in substance and in style.