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G. H. Mair

The intention of this book is to lay stress on ideas and tendencies that have to be understood and appreciated, rather than on facts that have to be learned by heart. Many authors are not mentioned and others receive scanty treatment, because of the necessities of this method of approach. The book aims at dealing with the matter of authors more than with their lives; consequently it contains few dates. All that the reader need require to help him have been included in a short chronological table at the end.

The student of literature, when he passes in his reading from the age of Shakespeare and Milton to that of Dryden and Pope, will be conscious of certain sharply defined differences between the temper and styles of the writers of the two periods.

By 1730 the authors whose work made the “classic” school in England were dead or had ceased writing; by the same date Samuel Johnson had begun his career as a man of letters. The difference between the period of his maturity and the period we have been examining is not perhaps easy to define; but it exists and it can be felt unmistakably in reading. For one thing “Classicism” had become completely naturalized; it had ceased to regard the French as arbiters of elegance and literary taste; indeed Johnson himself never spoke of them without disdain and hated them as much as he hated Scotsmen.

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