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A STUDY OF THE TYPES OF LITERATURE
Reasons for the Study of Literature. If we wish to understand a people fully, we shall find the historical account alone inadequate for our purpose. History, it is true, will show us what place these people have won among the nations and what part they have had in the progress of the world; but regarding their innermost thoughts and feelings-their real life-it will have little. to say. This information can be obtained only from the literature which they themselves have brought forth. The historical records, valuable as they are, will often be misleading if we do not see "the other side of the shield"; if we do not understand the thoughts and emotions that lie back of the deeds. Furthermore, literature is the treasure-house of ideals. The man who is not guided by an ideal is worthless, and even dangerous, to society. Literature not only stores up the noblest ideals that the world has known, but it inspires and fosters these in men.
Therefore, since literature reveals the deepest thoughts and feelings of the human race, cherishes the ideals that lie at the basis of all that we hold to be most precious in our world to-day, and helps us to understand more fully this complex life that we have to live, it is one of the most valuable and really practical subjects that a student can pursue.
The Aim of True Literature.-Literature in its wider meaning includes everything that has been expressed through the written or printed page. In its narrow or restricted sense, however, it has a special object to serve. That object is not only to give pleasure to the reader through the expression of true and beautiful thoughts in fitting language, but also to fire the imagination and arouse noble, unselfish emotions. True literature is thus concerned with the needs of our higher natures.
Divisions of Literature.-True literature is divided into two great classes: poetry and prose.
Importance of Poetry. Of the two great classes of literature, poetry was the first to be developed. The very best literary works, moreover, have been done in this form. The greatest names in the literature of the world are those of poets. This may seem strange to us of the twentieth century, who have seen in our own day the great popularity of prose literature, as is shown by the floods of novels, short-stories, prose plays, essays, magazine articles and other forms of prose that have streamed forth from the printing presses of all lands. Important as these works are to us, however, we shall have to admit that no prose
writers have ever equaled David, Homer, Eschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare or Milton.
Since poetry is the first of the great classes of literature, both in order of time and rank, we shall begin our present study of literary types with this class.
The Great Classes of Poetry.-Poetry is usually divided into three great classes, according to whether it tells a story, voices the author's own thoughts and feelings, or portrays life and character through action. These classes are narrative, lyric, and dramatic poetry.
Minor Forms of Poetry. There are also three minor forms that are sometimes distinguished. These are descriptive, didactic, and satiric poetry. As regards the first of these classes, however, description enters so largely into the composition of all of the other forms of poetry, that it is scarcely worth while to try to make a separate classification. Although the names idyl and pastoral are applied where there is a "little picture" or a description of country or shepherd life, yet such descriptions usually form only a part of some narrative, lyric, or even dramatic poem. For instance, Milton's "Lycidas" is not only the finest pastoral in English literature, but it is also an elegy, one of the types of lyric poetry; and Tennyson's "Dora" is both an idyl and a metrical tale, a type of narrative poetry.
As regards the other minor forms, didactic and satiric poetry, still less may be said. These are not, strictly speaking, true poetry, even though they are in the poetic form. Their purpose is not to serve the needs of our higher natures, but to give instruction, or to criticize and ridicule. The best known examples of didactic poetry, Pope's "Essay on Man" and "Essay on Critieism," would probably have been better if they had been in prose; and such satiric poems as Pope's "Dunciad" and Byron's "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers," though given in rhyme, do not possess truly poetic qualities.
In this study of literary types, therefore, we shall consider only the three great classes of poetry and their sub-divisions.