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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1878, by
THE History of Literature, as a separate branch of the history of civilization, is of comparatively recent origin; the first work on the subject in any language dating no farther back than the sixteenth century of our era, and being little more than a crude catalogue of authors and their books. Yet who can deny the great importance of such history” When studied in connection with illustrative extracts from the masterpieces of which it treats, it furnishes a key to the intellectual development of our race, introduces us to the great minds that stand as beacon lights in successive ages, and with their wisdom widens the scope of knowledge, while it refines the taste and disciplines the judgment. Lord Bacon said but the truth, when he remarked that the history of the world without the history of letters would be as incomplete as a statue of Polyphemus deprived of his single eye.
Nor is this study without results of a direct practical bearing. Certainly all must appreciate the importance of understanding current allusions to the writers and literary works of other ages and countries, and must admit that some acquaintance at least with such writers and works is essential to a well-grounded knowledge of one's own language and a correct estimate of its literature. But when is such an acquaintance to be obtained, if not during a school or college course ? The engrossing duties of after-life leave little time for the pursuit of liberal studies. And how is such an acquaintance to be obtained? All are not linguists, and the greater part must get it second-hand—must avail themselves of the labors of others who have delved in these unfamiliar fields. It may be stated as a broad fact that few will know anything of general literature who do not study its history systematically, as a part of the academic curriculum.
It is to facilitate and popularize this study by furnishing a complete and carefully condensed text-book on the subject, unencumbered by obscure names and wearisome details, that the volume now offered to the public has been prepared. It presents a full account of the literatures of ancient nations, and, treating of the origin and relationships of their respective languages, incidentally brings forward some of the most interesting facts of Comparative Philology. While the writings of Greece and Rome receive due attention, a new and, it is believed, peculiarly valuable feature of the book will be found in its treatment of ancient Oriental literature—particularly the Sanscrit and Persian. The labors of European scholars during the last quarter-century have thrown a chain of living interest around the subject, and awakened on this side of the Atlantic as well a thirst for further knowledge, which it is here attempted to satisfy. The principles of the Egyptian picture-writing (hieroglyphics) are also explained; and the vast literary treasures recently unearthed amid the ruins of the Nile Valley and elsewhere are described and illustrated. In treating the subject, the author has aimed, while giving a clear outline of each literature as a whole, to make its great writers stand out in bold relief, and to associate them in the pupil’s mind with the works that have made them immortal. With this view, brief biogTaphies, not fragmentary or isolated, but grafted on the narrative where they naturally belong, are accompanied with short specimens, carefully selected to give the best idea of each author's style and genius. In the critical views as well as the historical facts presented, the latest authorities have been followed, and the aid of maps and illustrations has been freely resorted to for the better elucidation of points on which they could throw light. . The present volume has grown out of the author's experience in the lecture-room; and in the belief that it is of a scope and grade that will meet the popular want, he now offers it to high-schools, academies, and colleges. From such institutions he feels that no class should graduate in ignorance either of the Greek and Roman classics which have inspired the modern poet and philosopher, or of those precious remains of once great Oriental literatures that patient scholars of the nineteenth century have brought to light—that helped to shape the Greek mind itself in the morning of the world. He trusts that it may foster in the young admiration of the brilliant thoughts that sparkle in the pages of ancient lore, a love of literature, and a taste for philological investigations. If it be approved by the friends of education, he shall feel encouraged to continue his labors in this department by preparing a similar work on Modern Literature.
Definition and Divisions of Literature, page 11.—Origin and Relationship of
Sanscrit Language, 31.—Sanscrit Alphabet, 32.—Sanscrit Researches, 33.−The