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In order to appreciate fully the merits of an author, it is necessary to throw a search-light upon the period in which he wrote. His writings should not be studied alone, isolated from their companions, but should be viewed in relation to their social, political, and historical conditions. This is particularly advisable in criticising the literature of a previous century whose customs, manners, tastes, and opinions differ so widely from those of our own. We must obliterate our prejudices and fixed ideas; must shut our eyes to the present, and transporting ourselves to the past, live in spirit with the people of that time, be participants in their work, their recreations, their joys, and their sorrows; must eat at their tables and take part in their conversations; must wear the clothes they wore, travel the roads they travelled, read the books they read, visit the people whom they visited, appreciate their hindrances and limitations, and survey the whole field, not with a satirical, fault-finding spirit, but with clear vision and sympathetic comradeship.


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