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AUTHOR'S INTRODUCTION TO THIS TRANSLATION
THE Author of this elegant and faithful translation has thought that I ought to indicate to the reader what plan I kept before me in writing the history of English Literature. Briefly stated, it was
A nation lives twenty, thirty centuries and longer, and a mal lives but sixty or seventy years. Nevertheless, a nation has a good many points in which it is like a man. For, in a career so long and almost interminable, a nation has its own character, both mental and moral, which manifests itself at the beginning, and develops from epoch to epocn, preserving the same fundamental qualities from its origin to its decline. This is a matter of experience, and whoever has followed the history of a peoplefor instance, of the Greeks from Homer to the Byzantine Cæsars, the Germans from the Nibelungen Lied to Goethe, the French from the first Chansons de Geste and the earliest fabliaux, down to Beranger and Alfred de Musset, cannot help recognizing in the Efe of a nation a continuity as strict as in the life of an indi
Now suppose that in the case of one of the half-dozen great men who have played the leading parts on the world's stage-Alexder, Napoleon, Newton, Dante,-suppose that by some extraor daary piece of good fortune we happened to have a quantity of authentic portraits, uninjured and fresh-water-colors, draw ings, sketches, full-length portraits, representing him at all Lmes of life, in his various costumes, expressions, and attitudes, with all his surroundings, especially in his greatest deeds, and in the most trying crises that marked the development of his char
Well, that is just the kind of memoranda which we possess
AUTHOR'S INTRODUCTION TO THIS TRANSLATION.
to-day to enable us to know the great being that we call a nation, especially when the nation has a full and original literature. For most essential purposes, each of its literary productions is a picture in which we contemplate the nation itself. And this picture is really more precious than a physical portrait, for it is a moral one. The poem of Beowulf and the Canterbury Tales, the dramatic works of the Renaissance and the Reformation, the various lines of authors in prose and verse who have followed each other, from Shakespeare and Bacon down to Tenny son, Dickens, and Carlyle, place before us all the literary forms and poetical images, all the variations of thought, sentiment, and expression, in which the soul of the English nation has found delight. There we may follow the change in tastes, and the persistency in instincts; there we see the national character acted upon by circumstances, and moulded in directions determined partly by its own nature and partly by tradition; but through all, one is conscious of a persistent individuality-the adult merely fulfills the promise of the youth and the child; the living figure of to-day still preserves the characteristic features of the earliest portrait. From all these portraits I have undertaken to pick out the most lifelike and the most faithful, to arrange them according to their dates and degrees of importance, to put them in appropriate groups and to explain them, commenting upon them with admiration and sympathy, but not without freedom and candor; for though one ought to feel affection for his theme, he should never flatter anybody. Possibly it would be better to leave my task to those who are at home in England; they are apt to say that they know our personage better because they are of his family. True, but in living with a person one is not specially apt to be aware of his peculiarities. On the contrary, a stranger has one advantage-custom does not blunt his perceptions; he is unconsciously struck by the principal characteristics, and treats the subject with reference to them. This, then, is my whole excuse; I offer it to the reader with some special confidence, because, when I pass in review my own ideas about France, I find many which have been given me by strangers, and by none more than the English. H. A. TAINE.
PARIS, October, 1871.
The historian might place himself for a certain time, during several centurie or amongst a certain people, in the midst of the spirit of humanity. He might study, describe, relate all the events, the changes, the revolutions which took place in the inner-man; and when he had reached the end, he would possess a history of the civilisation of the nation and the period he selected.-GUIZOT, Civilisation in Europe, p. 25.
ISTORY has been revolutionised, within a hundred years in Germany, within sixty years in France, and that ly the study of their literatures.
It was perceived that a work of literature is not a mere play of imagination, a solitary caprice of a heated brain, but a transcript of Contemporary manners, a type of a certain kind of mind. It was concluded that one might retrace, from the monuments of literature, the style of man's feelings and thoughts for centuries back. The attempt was made, and it succeeded.
Pondering on these modes of feeling and thought, men decided that in them were embalmed facts of the highest kind. They saw that these facts bore reference to the most important occurrences, that they explained and were explained by them, that it was necessary thenceforth to give them a rank, and a most important rank, in history. This rank they have received, and from that moment history has undergone a complete change: in its subject-matter, its system, its machinery, the appreciation of laws and of causes. It is this change, as it has hap Pred and must still happen, that we shall here endeavour to exhibit.
What is your first remark on turning over the great, stiff leaves of a folio, the yellow sheets of a manuscript,-a poem, a code of laws, ■ declaration of faith? This, you say, was not created alone. It is but mold, like a fossil shell, an imprint, like one of those shapes embocsed in stone by an animal which lived and perished. Under the thell there was an animal, and behind the document there was a man, Why do you study the shell, except to represent to yourself the animal? do you study the document only in order to know the man.
shell and the document are lifeless wrecks, valuable only as a clue to the entire and living existence. We must reach back to this existence, endeavour to re-create it. It is a mistake to study the document, as if it were isolated. This were to treat things like a simple pedant, to fall into the error of the bibliomaniac. Behind all, we have neither mythology nor languages, but only men, who arrange words and imagery according to the necessities of their organs and the criginal bent of their intellects. A dogma is nothing in itself; look at the people who have made it,-a portrait, for instance, of the sixteenth century, the stern and energetic face of an English archbishop or martyr. Nothing exists except through some individual man; it is this individual with whom we must become acquainted. When we have established the parentage of dogmas, or the classification of poems, or the progress of constitutions, or the modification of idioms, we have only cleared the soil: genuine history is brought inte existence only when the historian begins to unravel, across the lapse of time, the living man, toiling, impassioned, entrenched in his customs, with his voice and features, his gestures and his dress, distinct and complete as he from whom we have just parted in the street. Let us endeavour, then, to annihilate as far as possible this great interval of time, which prevents us from seeing man with our eyes, with the eyes of our head. What have we under the fair glazed pages of a modern poem? A modern poet, who has studied and travelled, a man like Alfred de Musset, Victor Hugo, Lamartine, or Heine, in a black coat and gloves, welcomed by the ladies, and making every evening his fifty bows and his score of bon-mots in society, reading the papers in the morning, lodging as a rule on the second floor; not over gay, because he has nerves, and especially because, in this dense democracy where we choke one another, the discredit of the dignities of office has exaggerated his pretensions while increasing his importance, and because the refinement of his feelings in general disposes him somewhat to believe himself a deity. This is what we take note of under modern meditations or sonnets. Even so, under a tragedy of the seventeenth century we have a poet, like Racine for instance, elegant, staid, a courtier, a fine speaker, with a majestic wig and ribboned shoes, at heart a royalist and a Christian, 'having received the grace of God not to blush in any company, Kings nor Gospellers;' clever at entertaining the prince, and rendering for him into good French the old French of Amyot;' very respectful to the great, always knowing his place;' as assiduous and reserved at Marly as at Versailles, amidst the regular pleasures of a polished and fastidious nature, amidst the salutations, graces, airs, and fopperies of the braided lords, who rose early in the morning to obtain the promise of being appointed to some office in case of the death of the present holder, and amongst charming ladies who count their genealogies on their fingers in order to obtain the right of sitting down in the pres nce of the King or Queen. On that head consult St. Simon and the
engravings of Pérelle, as for the present age you have consulted Balzac and the water-colours of Eugène Lami. Similarly, when we read a Greek tragedy, our first care should be to realise to ourselves the Greeks, that is, the men who live half naked, in the gymnasia, or in the public squares, under a glowing sky, face to face with the most noble landscapes, bent on making their bodies nimble and strong, on conversing, discussing, voting, carrying on patriotic piracies, but for the rest lazy and temperate, with three urns for their furniture, two anchovies in a jar of oil for their food, waited on by slaves, so as to give them leisure to cultivate their understanding and exercise their limbs, with no desire beyond that of having the most beautiful town, the most beautiful processions, the most beautiful ideas, the most beautiful men. On this subject, a statue such as the Meleager, or the Theseus of the Parthenon, or still more, the sight of the Mediterranean, blue and lustrous as a silken tunic, and islands arising from it like masses of marble, and added to these, twenty select phrases from Plato and Aristophanes, will teach vou much more than a multitude of dissertations and commentaries. And so again, in order to understand an Indian Purāna, begin by imagining to yourself the father of a family, who, having seen a son on his son's knees,' retires, according to the law, into solitude, with an axe and a pitcher, under a banana tree, by the river-side, talks no more, adds fast to fast, dwells naked between four fires, and under a fifth, the terrible sun, devouring and renewing without end all things living; who step by step, for weeks at a time, fres his imagination upon the feet of Brahma, next upon his knee, next pon his thigh, next upon his navel, and so on, until, beneath the strain of this intense meditation, hallucinations begin to appear, until all the forms of existence, mingled and transformed the one with the other, Gaver before a sight dazzled and giddy, until the motionless man, taeling in his breath, with fixed gaze, beholds the universe vanishing like a smoke beyond the universal and void Being into which he aspires to be absorbed. To this end a voyage to India would be the best nstructor; or for want of better, the accounts of travellers, books of graphy, botany, ethnology, will serve their turn. In each case the search must be the same. A language, a legislation, a catechism, is tever more than an abstract thing: the complete thing is the man who ts, the man corporeal and visible, who eats, walks, fights, labours. Lave on one side the theory and the mechanism of constitutions, regions and their systems, and try to see men in their workshops, in tir offices, in their fields, with their sky and earth, their houses, their dress, cultivations, meals, as you do when, landing in England or Italy,
remark faces and motions, roads and inns, a citizen taking his k, a workman drinking. Our great care should be to supply as much as possible the want of present, personal, direct, and sensible
ation which we can no longer practise; for it is the only means knowing men. Let us make the past present: in order to judge of