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PRIOR. Matthew Prior is one of those that have burst out from an obscure original to great eminence. He was born July 21, 1664, according to some, at Winburn, in Dorsetshire, of I know not what parents; others say, that he was the son of a joiner of London: he was, perhaps, willing enough to leave his birth unsettled, in hope, like Don Quixote, that the historian of his actions might find him some illustrious alliance. He is supposed to have... more...

Chapter I. Books may be written in all sorts of places. Verbal inspiration may enter the berth of a mariner on board a ship frozen fast in a river in the middle of a town; and since saints are supposed to look benignantly on humble believers, I indulge in the pleasant fancy that the shade of old Flaubert—who imagined himself to be (amongst other things) a descendant of Vikings—might have hovered with amused interest over the decks of... more...

A FAMILIAR PREFACE As a general rule we do not want much encouragement to talk about ourselves; yet this little book is the result of a friendly suggestion, and even of a little friendly pressure. I defended myself with some spirit; but, with characteristic tenacity, the friendly voice insisted, "You know, you really must." It was not an argument, but I submitted at once. If one must! . . . You perceive the force of a word. He who wants to... more...

CHAPTER I. BIRTH AND EDUCATION—CAMBRIDGE. I cannot, perhaps, more fitly begin this short biography than with some words in which its subject has expressed his own feelings as to the spirit in which such a task should be approached. "Silence," says Wordsworth, "is a privilege of the grave, a right of the departed: let him, therefore, who infringes that right by speaking publicly of, for, or against, those who cannot speak for themselves,... more...

I. PRELIMINARY It is over twenty years since the death of Washington Irving removed that personal presence which is always a powerful, and sometimes the sole, stimulus to the sale of an author's books, and which strongly affects the contemporary judgment of their merits. It is nearly a century since his birth, which was almost coeval with that of the Republic, for it took place the year the British troops evacuated the city of New York, and only... more...


EARLY YEARS AND SURROUNDINGS Irving's name stands as the first landmark in American letters. No other American writer has won the same sort of recognition abroad or esteem at home as became his early in life. And he has lost very little ground, so far as we can judge by the appeal to figures. The copyright on his works ran out long since, and a great many editions of Irving, cheap and costly, complete and incomplete, have been issued from many... more...

I. PRELIMINARY. It is over twenty years since the death of Washington Irving removed that personal presence which is always a powerful, and sometimes the sole, stimulus to the sale of an author's books, and which strongly affects the contemporary judgment of their merits. It is nearly a century since his birth, which was almost coeval with that of the Republic, for it took place the year the British troops evacuated the city of New York, and... more...

CHAPTER I INTRODUCTORY SUMMARY Four Scotchmen, born within the limits of the same hundred years, all in the first rank of writers, if not of thinkers, represent much of the spirit of four successive generations. They are leading links in an intellectual chain. DAVID HUME (1711-1776) remains the most salient type in our island of the scepticism, half conservative, half destructive, but never revolutionary, which marked the third quarter of the... more...

PREFACE "Generally speaking," Goethe has himself said, "the most important period in the life of an individual is that of his development—the period which, in my case, breaks off with the detailed narrative of Dichtung und Wahrheit." In reality, as we know, there is no complete breach at any point in the lives of either nations or individuals. But if in the life of Goethe we are to fix upon a dividing point, it is his departure from... more...

PREFACE It has been a labor of love with many distinguished Frenchmen to recall the memories of the women who have made their society so illustrious, and to retouch with sympathetic insight the features which time was beginning to dim. One naturally hesitates to enter a field that has been gleaned so carefully, and with such brilliant results, by men like Cousin, Sainte-Beuve, Goncourt, and others of lesser note. But the social life of the two... more...