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NOTE This essay was written as a preface to “One Hundred Books Famous in English Literature, with Facsimiles of the Title-pages and an Introduction. The Grolier Club of the city of New York. MCMII.” The list of books selected was the following: Chaucer, “Canterbury Tales”; Gower, “Confessio Amantis”; Malory, “Morte Arthure"; "The Booke of Common Praier"; Langland, "Vision of Pierce Plowman”; Holinshed, “Chronicles”; “A Myrrour for Magistrates"; Surrey, "Songes and Sonnettes”; Sackville, “Ferrex and Porrex”; Lylie, "Euphues”; Sidney, “Arcadia”; Spenser, “Faerie Queene”; Bacon, “Essaies”; Hakluyt, “Navigations”; Chapman, "Homer"; Holy Bible; Jonson, "Workes”; Burton, “Anatomy of Melancholy”; Shakespeare, “Comedies, Histories and Tragedies”; Webster, “Duchesse of Malfy”; Massinger, "A New Way to Pay Old Debts”; Ford, “Broken Heart”; Marlowe, “Jew of Malta”; Herbert, “Temple"; Donne, “Poems"; Browne, “Religio Medici”; Waller, “Workes”; Beaumont and Fletcher, “Comedies and Tragedies”; Herrick, "Hesperides”; Taylor, "Holy Living”; Walton, “Compleate Angler”; Butler, “Hudibras”; Milton, “Paradise Lost”; Bunyan, “Pilgrim's Progress"; Dryden, "Absalom and Achitophel"; Locke, “Essay Concerning Humane Understanding”; Congreve, “Way of the World"; Clarendon, "History"; Steele, “Lucubrations of Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq.”; Addison, "Spectator”; Defoe, "Robinson Crusoe”; Swift, “Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World”; Pope, “Essay on Man"; Butler, “Analogy"; Percy, "Reliques”; Collins, “Odes”; Richardson, “Clarissa”; Fielding, “Tom Jones”; Gray, "Elegy”; Johnson, “Dictionary”; Franklin, “Poor Richard's Almanack”; Blackstone, “Commentaries”; Goldsmith, “Vicar of Wakefield"; rne, “Sentimental Journey”; “The Federalist”; Smollett, “Humphrey Clinker"; Smith, “Wealth of Nations”; Gibbon, "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"; Sheridan, “School for Scandal”; Cowper, “Task"; Burns, “Poems”; White, “Natural History of Selborne”; Burke, “Reflections on the Revolution"; Paine, “Rights of Man”; Boswell, “Life of Samuel Johnson”; Wordsworth, “Lyrical Ballads”; Irving, “History of New York”; Byron, “Childe Harold's Pilgrimage"; Austen, “Pride and Prejudice”; Coleridge, “Christabel"; Scott, “Ivanhoe”; Keats, Lamia”; Shelley, “Adonais”; Lamb, “Elia”; Pepys, "Memoirs”; Cooper, "Last of the Mohicans”; Landor, "Pericles and Aspasia”; Dickens, “Pickwick Papers”; Carlyle, “Sartor Resartus”; Emerson, "Nature"; Prescott, “Conquest of Peru”; Poe, “The Raven”; Brontë, "Jane Eyre”; Longfellow, “Evangeline”; Mrs. Browning, “Sonnets”; Lowell, “Biglow Papers”; Thackeray, “Vanity Fair”; Macaulay, “History of England”; Tennyson, "In Memoriam”; Hawthorne, “Scarlet Letter"; Stowe, “Uncle Tom's Cabin”; Ruskin, "Stones of Venice"; Browning, "Men and Women"; Motley, “Dutch Republic”; George Eliot, "Adam Bede”; Darwin, "Origin of Species”; Fitzgerald, “Rubaiyát”; Newman, “Apologia”; Arnold, “Essays in Criticism”; Whittier, “Snowbound."
THE PRAISE OF ENGLISH BOOKS 1
A BOOK is judged by its peers. In the presence of the greater works of authors there is no room for personal criticism; they constitute in themselves the perpetual mind of the race, and dispense with any private view. The eye rests on these hundred titles of books famous in English literature, as it reads a physical map by peak, river, and coast, and sees in miniature the intellectual conformation of a nation. A different selection would only mean another point of view; some minor features might be replaced by others of similar subordination; but the mass of imagination and learning, the mindachievement of the English race, is as unchangeable as a mountain landscape. Perspective thrusts its unconscious judgment on the eye of the mind; if from our own point of view Gower is thin with distance and the clump of the Elizabethans shows crowded with low spurs, the mind is not therefore deceived by the large pettiness of the modern foreground with its more numerous and distinct details. The mass governs. Darwin appeals to Milton; Shelley is judged by Pope, and Hawthorne by Congreve.
Great books must of necessity be national books; for fame, which is essentially the highest gift of which man has the giving, cannot be conferred except by a public voice. Fame dwells upon the lips of men. It
1 Copyright, 1902, by The Grolier Club of the City of New York.
is not that memorable books must all be people's books, though the greatest are such — the Book of Common Prayer, the Bible, Shakespeare; but those which embody some rare intellectual power, or illuminate some seldom visited tract of the spirit, or merely display some peculiar taste in learning or pastime, must yet have something racial in them, something public, to secure their hold against the detaching power of time; they must be English books, not in tongue only, but body and soul. They are not less the books of a nation because they are remote, superfine, uncommon, even unique. Such are the books of the poets — the “Faerie Queene”; books of the nobles - "Arcadia"; books of the scholar
“ the “Anatomy of Melancholy.” These books open the national genius as truly, kind by kind, as books of knowledge exhibit the nation's advancement in learning, stage by stage, when new sciences are brought to the birth. Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations,” Locke's “Essay,” Blackstone's “Commentaries,” are not merely the product of private minds. They are landmarks of English intellect; and more, since they pass insensibly into the power of civilization in the land, feeding the general mind. The limited appeal that many classics made in their age, and still make, indicates lack of development in particular persons; but however numerous such individuals may be, in whatever majorities they may mass, the mind of the race, once having flowered, has flowered with the vigor of the stock. The "Compleat Angler" finds a rustic breast under much staid cloth; Pepys was never at a loss for a gossip since his seals were broken, and Donne evokes his fellow-eccentric whose hermitage is the scholar's bosom; but whether the charm work on few or on many is indifferent, for
whom they affect, they affect through consanguinity. The books of a nation are those which are appropriate to its genius and embody its variations amid the changes of time; even its sports, like “Euphues,” are itself; and the works which denote the evolution of its civilized life in fructifying progress, whose increasing diversities are yet held in the higher harmony of one race, one temperament, one destiny, are without metaphor its Sibylline books, and true oracles of empire.
It is a sign of race in literature that a book can spare what is private to its author, and comes at last to forego his earth-life altogether. This is obvious of works of knowledge, since positive truth gains nothing from personality, but feels it as an alloy; and a wise analysis will affirm the same of all long-lived books. Works of science are charters of nature, and submit to no human caprice; and, in a similar way, works of imagination, which are to the inward world of the spirit what works of science are to the natural universe, are charters of the soul, and borrow nothing from the hand that wrote them. How deciduous such books are of the private life needs only to be stated to be allowed. They cast biography from them like the cloak of the ascending prophet. An author is not rightly to be reckoned among immortals until he has been forgotten as a man, and become a shade in human memory, the myth of his own work. The anecdote lingering in the "Mermaid Tavern” is cocoon-stuff, and left for waste; time spiritualizes the soul it released in Shakespeare, and the speedier the change, so much the purer is the warrant of a life above death in the minds of men. The loneliness of antique names is the austerity of fame, and only therewith do Milton, Spenser, Chaucer, seem nobly clad and