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A Critical History
of
English L'iterature
VOLUME I
DAVID DAICHES
A Critical History
of
English Literature
IN TWO VOLUMES
~~
VOLUME I
~~
,
London
SEeKER & WARBURG
1961
Prinud in Great BriJlJin by
Morrison & Gibb Ltd., Lrmdall alld Edillburgh
and published in Great Britain b_lI
klartin Seeker & Warhurg Ltd.
7 John Street, London
W.C.l
Copycight © J 960 by
THE RONALD PRESS COMPANY
First pllblished September 1960
Reprin ted December 1960
Reprinted February 1961
To my former students

on both sides of the Atlantic
pero pur va ed andanda asealta
Preface
TillS IS AN AGE of specialist .schoiars, and for one man to attempt a
complete history of English literature is now both rash and unusual.
I cannot claim to be a specialist in all the periods on which I have
written, nor, in spite of my best attempts, have I been able to keep
abreast of all new developments in English studies. But I have been
reading English literature continuously and closely ever since I began my studies at Edinburgh University in 1930, and I have long felt
the urge to describe the whole scene as I see it. This, therefore, is
one man's history of English literature; it is intended less as a work
of reference than as a. work of description, explanation, and critical
interpretation. It is not meant to be looked up, but to be read. I have
given myself generous space in dealing with major figures such as
Shakespeare and Milton, without bothering whether, in strict terms
of relative greatness, they deserve so much more than I have given
to some other writers. Indeed, ,the chapters on Shakespeare and
Milton can perhaps stand as ind~pendent critical studies, capable of
being extracted from the rest of the History and read as short books
on their Own. Nevertheless, thougb the word "critical" in my title is
important, I have tried never to lose sight of the fact that this is a
history, not a series of separate critical studies, and the appropriate
kinds of historical generalizations and the proper continuity of narrative have, I hope, been maintained throughout. I may sometimes
have treated a minor writer who interests me particularly at greater
length than he deserves, or rather briefly summarized something important and well known. But I have tried to see my subject steadily
and see it whole; and I have tried to write interestingly, less as the
impersonal scholar recording facts than as the interested reader sharing his knowledge and opinions.
On matters of pure scholarship I have, of course, often had to depend on the researches of others. On questions of emphaSis and
v
Vl
PREFACE
assessment I have done so as little as possible, although occasionally
even the most conscientious critical historian must be content to take
the word of a ~ympathetic expert about the value of an odd minor
work to which he himself has never devoted a great deal of careful
attention. Art is long and life is short, and one cannot always be
wholly original in everything. I hope, however, that the pattern
which a Single mind imposes on this vast material will make my
account more lively and suggestive than the conscientious composite
works of reference by teams of experts, from which I have myself
profited but which are not literary history in the sense that this book
is intended to be.
I have been more liberal in quotation from the works under discussion than is. usual for a literary historian; I have found that the
critical side of the work demands this. I have been deliberately inconsistent in the lexts of my quotations. As a rule I have modernized
spelling and punctuation, though not in Middle English texts, which
lose too much by such modernization. In sixteenth-, seventeenth-,
and eighteenth-century texts I have retained the original spelling
where it is important as giving a period flavor or indicating some
historical aspects of the language or of-literary convention; otherwise
I have modernized it. My principle in this and other matters has
been maximum ease of reading compatible with sound scholarship
and intellectual responsibility.
DAVID DAICHES
Jesus College, Cambridge
February, 1960
Contents
VOLUME
I
CHAPTER
PAGE
1
ANGLO-SAXON LITERATURE
3
2
THE DEVELOPMENT OF MIDDLE ENGLISH PROSE AND
31
VERSE
3
MIDDLE ENGLISH LITERATURE: FABLlAU, LYRIC, DREAM
68
ALLEGORY, BALLAD