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PREFA CE.

As this volume, although not the first in chronological order, is likely to be the first to appear in the Series of which it forms part, and of which the author has the honour to be editor, it may be well to say a few words here as to the scheme of this Series generally. When that scheme was first sketched, it was necessarily objected that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain contributors who could boast intimate and equal knowledge of all the branches of European literature at any given time. To meet this by a simple denial was, of course, not to be thought of. Even universal linguists, though not unknown, are not very common; and universal linguists have not usually been good critics of any, much less of all, literature. But it could be answered that if the main

principle of the scheme was sound—that is to say, if it was really desirable not to supplant but to supplement the histories of separate literatures, such as now exist in great numbers, by something like a new “Hallam,” which should take account of all the simultaneous and contemporary developments and their interaction —some sacrifice in point of specialist knowledge of individual literatures not only must be made, but might be made with little damage. And it could be further urged that this sacrifice might be reduced to a minimum by selecting in each case writers thoroughly acquainted with the literature which happened to be of greatest prominence in the special period, provided always that their general literary knowledge and critical habits were such as to render them capable of giving a fit account of the rest. In the carrying out of such a scheme occasional deficiencies of specialist dealing, or even of specialist knowledge, must be held to be compensated by range of handling and width of view. And though it is in all such cases hopeless to appease what has been called “the rage of the specialist” himself—though a Mezzofanti doubled with a Sainte-Beuve could never, in any general history of European literature, hope to satisfy the special devotees of Roumansch or of Platt

Deutsch, not to mention those of the greater languages —yet there may, I hope, be a sufficient public who, recognising the advantage of the end, will make a fair allowance for necessary shortcomings in the IIleanS. As, however, it is quite certain that there will be Some critics, if not some readers, who will not make this allowance, it seemed only just that the Editor should bear the brunt in this new Passage Perilous. I shall state very frankly the qualifications which I think I may advance in regard to this volume. I believe I have read most of the French and English literature proper of the period that is in print, and much, if not most, of the German. I know somewhat less of Icelandic and Provençal; less still of Spanish and Italian as regards this period, but something also of them: Welsh and Irish I know only in translations. Now it so happens that—for the period—French is, more than at any other time, the capital literature of Europe. Very much of the rest is directly translated from it; still more is imitated in form. All the great Subjects, the great matières, are French in their early treatment, with the exception of the national work of Spain, Iceland, and in part Germany. All the forms, except those of the prose Saga and its kinsman the

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German verse folk-epic, are found first in French. Whosoever knows the French literature of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, knows not merely the best literature in form, and all but the best in matter, of the time, but that which all the time was imitating, or shortly about to imitate, both in form and matter. Again, England presents during this time, though no great English work written “in the English tongue for English men,” yet the spectacle, unique in history, of a language and a literature undergoing a sea-change from which it was to emerge with incomparably greater beauty and strength than it had before, and in condition to vie with—some would say to outstrip —all actual or possible rivals. German, if not quite supreme in any way, gives an interesting and fairly representative example of a chapter of national literary history, less brilliant and original in performance than the French, less momentous and unique in promise than the English, but more normal than either, and furnishing in the epics, of which the Nibelungenlied and Kudrun are the chief examples, and in the best work of the Minnesingers, things not only of historical but of intrinsic value in all but the highest degree. Provençal and Icelandic literature at this time are both of them of far greater intrinsic interest than

English, if not than German, and they are infinitely

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