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HE plan of this Work is simple, and yet it is novel. In its distinctive features it differs from any compilation that has yet been made. Its main purpose is to present to American households a mass of good reading. But it goes much beyond this. For in selecting this reading it draws upon all literatures of all time and of every race, and thus becomes a conspectus of the thought and intellectual evolution of man from the beginning. Another and scarcely less important purpose is the interpretation of this literature in essays by scholars and authors competent to speak with authority. The title, "A Library of the World's Best Literature," is strictly descriptive. It means that what is offered to the reader is taken from the best authors, and is fairly representative of the best literature and of all literatures. It may be important historically, or because at one time it expressed the thought and feeling of a nation, or because it has the character of universality, or because the readers of to-day will find it instructive, entertaining, or amusing. The Work aims to suit a great variety of tastes, and thus to commend itself as a household companion for any mood and any hour. There is no intention of presenting merely a mass of historical material, however important it is in its place, which is commonly of the sort that people recommend others to read and do not read themselves. It is not a library of reference only, but a library to be read. The selections do not represent the partialities and prejudices and cultivation of any one person, or of a group of editors even; but, under the necessary editorial supervision, the sober judgment of almost as many minds as have assisted in the preparation of these volumes. By this method, breadth of appreciation has been sought.
The arrangement is not chronological, but alphabetical, under the names of the authors, and, in some cases, of literatures and special
Thus, in each volume a certain variety is secured, the heaviness or sameness of a mass of antique, classical, or mediæval material is avoided, and the reader obtains a sense of the varieties and contrasts of different periods. But the work is not an encyclopædia, or merely a dictionary of authors. Comprehensive information as to all writers of importance may be included in a supplementary reference volume; but the attempt to quote from all would destroy the Work for reading purposes, and reduce it to a herbarium of specimens.
In order to present a view of the entire literary field, and to make these volumes especially useful to persons who have not access to large libraries, as well as to treat certain literatures or subjects when the names of writers are unknown or would have no significance to the reader, it has been found necessary to make groups of certain nationalities, periods, and special topics. For instance, if the reader would like to know something of ancient and remote literatures which cannot well be treated under the alphabetical list of authors, he will find special essays by competent scholars on the AccadianBabylonian literature, on the Egyptian, the Hindu, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Icelandic, the Celtic, and others, followed by selections many of which have been specially translated for this Work. In these literatures names of ascertained authors are given in the Index. The intention of the essays is to acquaint the reader with the spirit, purpose, and tendency of these writings, in order that he may have a comparative view of the continuity of thought and the value of tradition in the world. Some subjects, like the Arthurian Legends, the Nibelungen Lied, the Holy Grail, Provençal Poetry, the Chansons and Romances, and the Gesta Romanorum, receive a similar treatment. Single poems upon which the authors' title to fame mainly rests, familiar and dear hymns, and occasional and modern verse of value, are also grouped together under an appropriate heading, with reference in the Index whenever the poet is known.
It will thus be evident to the reader that the Library is fairly comprehensive and representative, and that it has an educational value, while offering constant and varied entertainment. This comprehensive feature, which gives the Work distinction, is, however,