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Rofessor of history AND of ENGLish LITERATURE IN QUEEN's College, Brulf Ast

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In the largest or loosest sense of the expression a History of English Literature might be taken to mean an account of everything that has been written in the language. But neither is the literature of a language everything that has been written in it, nor would all that has been written in the language necessarily comprehend all its literature, for much true literature may exist, and has existed, without having been written. Literature is composed of words, of thought reduced to the form of words; but the words need not be written; it is enough that they be spoken or sung, or even only conceived. All that writing does is to record and preserve them. It no more endows them with any new character than money acquires a new character by being locked up in a desk or paid into a bank.

But, besides this, if the history of a national literature is to have any proper unity, it can rarely embrace the language in its entire extent. If it should attempt to do so, it would be really the history not of one but of several literatures. In some cases it might even be made a question when it was that the language properly began, at what point of the unbroken thread—which undoubtedly connects every form of human speech with a succession of preceding forms Out of which it has sprung—we are to say that an old

language has died and a new one come into existence;
but, at any rate, even when the language is admitted
to be the same, it not unfrequently differs almost as
much in two of its stages as if it were two languages.
We have a conspicuous example of this in our own
English. We may be said to have the language before
us in complete continuity from the seventh century;
but the English of the earliest portion of this long
space of time, or what is commonly called Anglo-Saxon,
is no more intelligible to an Englishman of the present
day who has not made it a special study than is Ger-
man or Dutch.
The case is even a great deal worse than that. Dutch
and German and other foreign tongues are living ; our
earliest English has been dead and buried for centuries.
Nay, for a long time even the fact that it had once
existed was all but universally forgotten. And even
since it has come to be once more studied we know
it only as a fossil—as the dust and dry bones of a
language. Of the literature written in it we may in-
deed acquire such a conception as we might of a liv-
ing human being from a skeleton; but nothing more.
Of that nocturnal portion of our literature, as it may
be called, no critical survey is attempted in the pres-
ent work. Only the principal compositions of which
it consists, and the names of their authors, are rapidly

enumerated by way of Introduction, along with the

leading particulars of the same kind belonging to the
histories of the Latin, the Welsh, and the Irish litera-
tures of the same early period.
The history of any national literature, in fact, natu-
rally divides itself into three portions, all very distinct
from one another, and demanding each a treatment of
its own. First, there is the portion which, as has just
been said, may be named after the night, not perhaps

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