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HE object of this book is to present a careful study
of the origins of English literature, and to trace its development up to the time when it assumed its permanent form. The author has attempted to show that the literature of England has been a gradual growth; that it has flowed out of the national life and is inseparably intertwined with the national history; that its development has been constant and consecutive from the very first, and that it commences not with Chaucer but with the primal poetry. The accumulation of a mass of names and dates, of biographical matter and encyclopædic information, has not been attempted. All writers who were not materially concerned in the evolution of the literature have been omitted. The book is not a storehouse of facts ”; its aim is rather to clear away the confusing mass of details which has grown up about the subject and to expose the main outlines, to trace causes and effects, and to show that no author and no period exist as isolated phenomena, but that they are merely natural results of previous conditions.
An attempt has been made to study the growth of the English spirit and to weigh all influences that have prominently affected it in any way.
The civil and religious history of England has been kept constantly in view. The spirit of the age, the condition and the temper of all classes of the people, the gradual development of new ideals and of new institutions, the various influences that have come from other lands to mold and to