Literary Taste: How to Form It/Chapter XI

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Literary Taste: How to Form It by Arnold Bennett
Chapter X!: An English library: Period I[1]
For the purposes of book-buying, I divide English literature, not strictly into historical epochs, but into three periods which, while scarcely arbitrary from the historical point of view, have nevertheless been calculated according to the space which they will occupy on the shelves and to the demands which they will make on the purse:

I. From the beginning to John Dryden, or roughly, to the end of the seventeenth century.

II. From William Congreve to Jane Austen, or roughly, the eighteenth century.

III. From Sir Walter Scott to the last deceased author who is recognised as a classic, or roughly, the nineteenth century.

Period III. will bulk the largest and cost the most; not necessarily because it contains more absolutely great books than the other periods (though in my opinion it does), but because it is nearest to us, and therefore fullest of interest for us.

I have not confined my choice to books of purely literary interest—that is to say, to works which are primarily works of literary art. Literature is the vehicle of philosophy, science, morals, religion, and history; and a library which aspires to be complete must comprise, in addition to imaginative works, all these branches of intellectual activity. Comprising all these branches, it cannot avoid comprising works of which the purely literary interest is almost nil.

On the other hand, I have excluded from consideration:—

i. Works whose sole importance is that they form a link in the chain of development. For example, nearly all the productions of authors between Chaucer and the beginning of the Elizabethan period, such as Gower, Hoccleve, and Skelton, whose works, for sufficient reason, are read only by professors and students who mean to be professors.

ii. Works not originally written in English, such as the works of that very great philosopher Roger Bacon, of whom this isle ought to be prouder than it is. To this rule, however, I have been constrained to make a few exceptions. Sir Thomas More's Utopia was written in Latin, but one does not easily conceive a library to be complete without it. And could one exclude Sir Isaac Newton's Principia, the masterpiece of the greatest physicist that the world has ever seen? The law of gravity ought to have, and does have, a powerful sentimental interest for us.

iii. Translations from foreign literature into English.

Here, then, are the lists for the first period:

Prose writers[edit]

£ s. d.
Bede, Ecclesiastical History: Temple Classics 0 4 0
Sir Thomas Malory, Morte d'Arthur: Everyman's Library (4 vols.) 0 4 0
Sir Thomas More, Utopia: Scott Library 0 1 0
George Cavendish, Life of Cardinal Wolsey: New Universal Library 0 1 0
Richard Hakluyt, Voyages: Everyman's Library (8 vols.) 0 8 0
Richard Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity: Everyman's Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0
FRANCIS BACON, Works: Newnes's Thin-paper Classics 0 2 0
Thomas Dekker, Gull's Horn-Book: King's Classics 0 1 6
Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Autobiography: Scott Library 0 1 0
John Selden, Table-Talk: New Universal Library 0 1 0
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan: New Universal Library 0 1 0
James Howell, Familiar Letters: Temple Classics (3 vols.) 0 4 6
SIR THOMAS BROWNE, Religio Medici, etc.: Everyman's Library 0 1 0
Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living and Holy Dying: Temple Classics (3 vols.) 0 4 6
Izaak Walton, Compleat Angler: Everyman's Library 0 1 0
JOHN BUNYAN, Pilgrim's Progress: World's Classics 0 1 0
Sir William Temple, Essay on Gardens of Epicurus: King's Classics 0 1 6
John Evelyn, Diary: Everyman's Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0
Samuel Pepys, Diary: Everyman's Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0
£2 1 6

The principal omission from the above list is The Paston Letters, which I should probably have included had the enterprise of publishers been sufficient to put an edition on the market at a cheap price. Other omissions include the works of Caxton and Wyclif, and such books as Camden's Britannia, Ascham's Schoolmaster, and Fuller's Worthies, whose lack of first-rate value as literature is not adequately compensated by their historical interest. As to the Bible, in the first place it is a translation, and in the second I assume that you already possess a copy.

Poets[edit]

£ s. d.
Beowulf, Routledge's London Library 0 2 6
GEOFFREY CHAUCER, Works: Globe Edition 0 3 6
Nicolas Udall, Ralph Roister-Doister: Temple Dramatists 0 1 0
EDMUND SPENSER, Works: Globe Edition 0 3 6
Thomas Lodge, Rosalynde: Caxton Series 0 1 0
Robert Greene, Tragical Reign of Selimus: Temple Dramatists 0 1 0
Michael Drayton, Poems: Newnes's Pocket Classics 0 3 6
CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE, Works: New Universal Library 0 1 0
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Works: Globe Edition 0 3 6
Thomas Campion, Poems: Muses' Library 0 1 0
Ben Jonson, Plays: Canterbury Poets 0 1 0
John Donne, Poems: Muses' Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0
John Webster, Cyril Tourneur, Plays: Mermaid Series 0 2 6
Philip Massinger, Plays: Cunningham Edition 0 3 6
Beaumont and Fletcher, Plays: a Selection: Canterbury Poets 0 1 0
John Ford, Plays: Mermaid Series 0 2 6
George Herbert, The Temple: Everyman's Library 0 1 0
ROBERT HERRICK, Poems: Muses' Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0
Edmund Waller, Poems: Muses' Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0
Sir John Suckling, Poems: Muses' Library 0 1 0
Abraham Cowley, English Poems: Cambridge University Press 0 4 6
Richard Crashaw, Poems: Muses' Library 0 1 0
Henry Vaughan, Poems: Methuen's Little Library 0 1 6
Samuel Butler, Hudibras: Cambridge University Press 0 4 6
JOHN MILTON, Poetical Works: Oxford Cheap Edition 0 2 0
JOHN MILTON, Select Prose Works: Scott Library 0 1 0
Andrew Marvell, Poems: Methuen's Little Library 0 1 6
John Dryden, Poetical Works: Globe Edition 0 3 6
[Thomas Percy], Reliques of Ancient English Poetry: Everyman's Library (2 vols.) 0 2 0
Arber's "Spenser" Anthology: Oxford University Press 0 2 0
Arber's "Jonson" Anthology: Oxford University Press 0 2 0
Arber's "Shakspere" Anthology: Oxford University Press 0 2 0
£3 7 6

There were a number of brilliant minor writers in the seventeenth century whose best work, often trifling in bulk, either scarcely merits the acquisition of a separate volume for each author, or cannot be obtained at all in a modern edition. Such authors, however, may not be utterly neglected in the formation of a library. It is to meet this difficulty that I have included the last three volumes on the above list. Professor Arber's anthologies are full of rare pieces, and comprise admirable specimens of the verse of Samuel Daniel, Giles Fletcher, Countess of Pembroke, James I., George Peele, Sir Walter Raleigh, Thomas Sackville, Sir Philip Sidney, Drummond of Hawthornden, Thomas Heywood, George Wither, Sir Henry Wotton, Sir William Davenant, Thomas Randolph, Frances Quarles, James Shirley, and other greater and lesser poets.

I have included all the important Elizabethan dramatists except John Marston, all the editions of whose works, according to my researches, are out of print.

In the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods talent was so extraordinarily plentiful that the standard of excellence is quite properly raised, and certain authors are thus relegated to the third, or excluded, class who in a less fertile period would have counted as at least second-class.

Summary of the first period[edit]

£ s. d.
19 prose authors in 36 volumes costing 2 1 6
29 poets in 36 volumes costing 3 7 6
48 72 £5 9 0

The prices given are gross, and in many instances there is a 25 per cent. discount to come off. All the volumes can be procured immediately at any bookseller's.

Notes[edit]

  1. For much counsel and correction in the matter of editions and prices I am indebted to my old and valued friend, Charles Young, head of the firm of Lamley & Co., booksellers, South Kensington.