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to-day thinks it has no time to examine for itself a collection like this, to choose the real gold and reject the dross, yet my wish is, in the extracts I am giving of my favorite authors, to induce readers to search further for themselves.
The ruling passion of mankind has been said to be curiosity. The most respectable form of it, it seems to me, is curiosity about mankind as it is, an interest in human nature, such as Fielding avowed, and almost every one recognizes in himself. In some it takes the form of excavation and search for relics of remote antiquity. When I was in Tunis, and visiting the site of ancient Carthage, of which absolutely nothing remains, and where nothing more was to be seen than a green field with goats browsing in it and a glorious view of the Mediterranean, it was announced to us that a tomb had that moment been opened, containing the skeleton of a Carthaginian man. A Punic man, actually lying there with no other signs to tell his story. Instantly the curiosity to know that story became intense. passion for digging in ancient ruins is easily understood. After the admirable invention of Cadmus, it becomes easier to learn about our progenitors. Hieroglyphics help, and although libraries are burnt, like Alexandria and Cordova, parchments are preserved and others come to light. With printing the matter grows simpler, for now the events of the world can be recorded and preserved, if people will but take the trouble to write them down. Research has brought to light the manners and customs of the early centuries, and now literature begins to record them, though at first sparingly.
People began to write good prose and beautiful poetry in the English language twelve centuries ago, and we may find satisfaction for our curiosity by
studying their works all along these years. But it is only with the end of the seventeenth and opening of the eighteenth century that the intellectual stir of the times begins to assume a personal character; lives, biographies, essays, from that time abound, and letter-writing took its valuable place in the literature of England. It seems as if everybody had discovered the fun of rushing into print. Political pamphlets preceded the newspaper editorial to which we are now accustomed. Fine ladies wrote ballads which were printed and scattered about the streets. Squibs, reviews, satirical poems, and letters filled the air. The personal rancors or political differences which inspired these flights have long ago vanished, but we may search such papers with interest to find traces of the manners of the world which wrote and read them. This literature naturally centered in London, reflecting upon human character and human life as seen in the great city. It discussed all the varieties of social life, and painted London society more vividly than has been done before or since.
It is of London, therefore, that we learn more than of the country life of England in our study of this literature, but Addison has given us a glimpse of the country in his description of Sir Roger, and Fielding and Goldsmith allow us a whiff of country air. Yet even with these, the indifference to landscape and the enjoyment of nature are remarkable. It has been said that the subject of nature and man's relation to it, that is of the visible landscape, sea, and sky, were as yet untouched up to the age of Pope, and the subject of man alone treated. This is so well and thoroughly handled that we cannot fail to acquire a pretty good notion of what man was like in the century before our own.
It is this view that has occupied me in making the
selections for the present book. In reading these often silly novels I am always looking out for points of difference in language, manners, observances, from our own ; things which the writers set down all unconsciously as matters of course, which now seem to us strange, oldfashioned, perhaps absurd, but interesting, in my opinion. We especially want to know what our greatgrandmothers were like, and there is abundant evidence to their characteristics, either in their own real letters or the fictitious ones written for them, which were accepted as good representatives of their thoughts and actions by their own approval.
I do not undertake to deal with the study of the literary style of the period, a work which is always forward, and in abler hands than my own. Even such lives as those of the writers I have quoted are to serve only to illustrate the conditions of their time. Their biographies have been all charmingly written and their works analyzed by our own best writers in other books.
My real object in preparing the book is to awake, if necessary, an interest in my subject, and to stimulate my readers to go further in the study of character afforded by the literature of the eighteenth century. If he once enters the path, the charm of style, the elegance of execution, the fertility of subject of great writers, cannot fail to lead him farther and farther upon such a delightful road.
April 30, 1898.